Feds: Former SVC exec embezzled an additional $110K

BENNINGTON -- Federal authorities have amended a previous complaint against the late James Beckwith, adding additional allegations of embezzlement by the former chief financial officer prior to his stint as acting president of Southern Vermont College in 2011.

The amended forfeiture complaint filed by the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont alleges Beckwith embezzled $110,000 in 2011.

On Feb. 22, the U.S. Attorney filed a complaint seeking to seize assets in Beckwith's name for allegedly embezzling $440,000 between October 2012 and January. That alleged embezzlement occurred when President Karen Gross was on a one-year leave of absence to work with the U.S. Department of Education and Beckwith was acting president.

The U.S. Attorney's office amended the complaint days later, alleging Beckwith fraudulently caused the college to issue three checks totaling $110,000 between September and November 2011 that were made payable to himself. Those checks were written prior to Gross' leave of absence that began in January 2012. Two of the checks, according to the complaint, included forgeries of Gross' signature.

Gross said Monday that while the earlier cases of alleged embezzlement occurred when she was still on campus, they happened after Beckwith was aware she would be spending a year in Washington D.C. and that he would be appointed acting president.

Similar to the accusations previously made against Beckwith -- who was found dead at his South Londonderry home on Feb. 20 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound -- the checks written in fall 2011 were deposited into a personal bank account Beckwith shared with his wife, Marjorie Daitch.

The college was first alerted to the alleged embezzlement when a financial audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 found, "suspicious financial transactions involving purported vendor payments made by Beckwith," according to an FBI affidavit. The transactions that caused red flags for the auditor were the $110,000 made out to Beckwith over three checks for $50,000 in September, $10,000 in October and $50,000 in November.

According to the affidavit, Beckwith claimed the checks represented reimbursement for personal funds he used to pay Hunter Excavating for work done on campus. Beckwith told officials he was unable to access college funds to pay Hunter Excavating at the time, "due to timing and cash flow issues." He also claimed that "exigent circumstances" required the work by Hunter Excavating to be completed immediately and he did not have time to obtain a check from the college. According to an internal investigation by the college, his explanation was not supported by facts.

Beckwith provided the college with copies of three personal checks totaling $260,000 he claimed to have written for work done by Hunter Excavating. Bank representatives told FBI investigators that none of the checks cleared.

Two of the SVC checks made out to Beckwith included forgeries of Gross' signature.

"Gross has advised that she was not aware of either of the two transactions, that she did not sign either check, and did not authorize anyone to sign the checks on her behalf," the affidavit states.

The previous allegations against Beckwith are that he fraudulently induced college officials to issue three checks in the amount of $100,000, $160,000 and $180,000 to a personal bank account he shared with his wife.

The affidavit supporting the initial allegations states Beckwith told college officials at the time that those funds were necessary to settle legal claims arising from a failed dormitory project. Instead, though, Beckwith used the proceeds of the first two checks -- totaling $260,000 -- to pay off balances on mortgage and home equity loans on his house.

Both complaints identify Beckwith's residence and money in two separate bank accounts as forfeitable as proceeds of mail fraud and as property involved in money laundering.

Last week, Daitch filed a claim of ownership on the house and bank accounts she shared with her husband to contest their forfeiture.

Beckwith had worked at the college as CFO and chief operating officer since 2007. He resigned on Feb. 3 after being questioned about the checks.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi


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