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Students Accused of Tech Fraud Must Pay $50K in Compensation

By Keith J. Winstein

NEWS AND FEATURES DIRECTOR

Four former MIT students, three of them former members of The Tech’s business department, have been ordered to pay back a total of $48,284 they are accused of embezzling from this newspaper in 2001.

One of the students, former Business Manager Huanne T. Thomas ’02, has violated the terms of her probation by failing to pay back the $15,784 by the Cambridge District Court’s March 7 deadline, according to the arrest warrant request filed by her probation officer.

MIT and The Tech have not yet received any payments from Thomas, said Tracy F. Purinton, the assistant dean for student activities.

Thomas’s attorney, Willie J. Davis, said he was unaware of her outstanding arrest warrant or her failure to return the stolen money. “This is the first I’ve heard of that,” he said, adding he had not recently met with Thomas.

Three must pay $33K by 2004

The remaining three, former Business Manager Jasmine Richards ’02, former business staff member Dashonn Graves ’03, and Stacey Winston ’02, were ordered to pay back a total of $32,500 -- Winston $900, Richards $6,600, and Graves $25,000 -- by March 2004.

After a year of unsupervised pre-trial probation and the return of the money, the criminal charges against them will be dismissed without a guilty plea, conviction, or sentence, said Richards’ attorney, Thomas R. Glover.

“If any conditions are failed or she gets into any more trouble, the case goes back on the trial list,” he said.

Pre-trial probation without conviction “is for people the judge sees as having potential,” said a former Graves attorney, Dale M. Merrill.

“Sometimes the court doesn’t want to totally damage their ability to contribute to society in the future,” she said. “This is a chance they’re being given.”

Two students probably expelled

In addition to court-ordered financial restitution, Thomas was suspended from MIT for seven years by the Committee on Discipline after confessing and implicating the other three, according to court records.

Graves and Richards appear to have been expelled by the committee. The committee’s proceedings are confidential, but statistical information reported in an MIT press release last week from Professor Derek Rowell, the committee chairman, strongly imply that they were expelled in the spring of 2002.

None of the four could be reached for comment, although Winston has previously maintained her innocence. Attorneys for Graves and Winston did not return calls seeking comment.

Tech disappointed with amount

The total the three were ordered to pay back was about $30,000 less than what The Tech asserts was stolen. In a report submitted last October, a Tech investigative committee traced $37,000 of allegedly improper transactions to Graves’ credit card and $18,000 in credits to Richards’ credit card and checks that she, as business manager, allegedly wrote to herself using The Tech’s bank account.

The figures for restitution were proposed by the Middlesex district attorney, Glover said, and his client agreed to pay back the money requested.

“We are disappointed in this discrepancy,” said Jyoti Tibrewala ’04, The Tech’s chairman. “We continue to be in touch with the district attorney to resolve this,” she said, although it was unclear what The Tech could do now that the district attorney has already agreed to the restitution orders.

Tibrewala added that The Tech might still see restitution of the remaining money by way of an insurance claim filed last year by MIT.

In Graves’ case, the $25,000 figure appears to be the maximum permissible in district court and without a grand jury indictment. In Richards’ case, $6,600 is the total value of the suspicious credit card transactions, without the checks Richards is alleged to have written to herself.

In addition to disappointment with the district attorney, Tibrewala also expressed frustration with the MIT Police. “There remains an additional $7,300 in suspicious credit card transactions” for which The Tech’s investigative committee was unable to find the name of the cardholder without a subpoena, or the cardholder had no apparent connection to MIT, she said. “The campus police have been aware of this for a year now, and no progress seems to have been made on these.”

Theft likely led to new accounting

The embezzlement, enabled by The Tech’s credit card billing machine and unaudited outside checking accounts, is widely believed to have led to Treasurer Allan S. Bufferd’s decision last May to forbid student groups from holding outside bank accounts, citing “difficulties” with some student group accounts.

“If it’s the case that MIT did away with outside bank accounts because of what happened with The Tech, I think it’s a shame that one group’s irresponsibility and sloppiness took away the privilege of outside bank accounts for everyone,” said Alex Rolfe G, the Lecture Series Committee chairman. “It doubles the amount of paperwork we have to do to write a check to someone.”