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Former Missouri technology worker admits defrauding university, vendor of $2.1M

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(The Center Square) – A former information technology employee for a private university in St. Louis pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $2.1 million fraud scheme.

Ronald Simpson, 54, of St. Peters, Mo., pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court in St. Louis, according to a media release from the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. The wire fraud charge is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both. Simpson is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 17.

Simpson worked in the information technology department at Webster University, a private school with approximately 13,000 students in Webster Groves, Mo., a suburb bordering St. Louis. An audit found $2 million was misappropriated during the 2022-23 school year, according to a February report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The university had a $39 million deficit in 2023, according to a report in the St. Louis Business Journal. Four university leaders, including its president and chief executive officer, resigned during the last year.

On March 1, St. Louis Circuit County Judge Stanley Wallach allowed the university access to more than $30 million in restricted donations. Judge Wallach’s order allows the university to reclassify the principal and accumulated interest of endowments as unrestricted funds to satisfy liquidity ratio requirements for loans. However, the university must reinstate the restrictions on the protected donations when the university returns to a budget surplus, regains a positive ratio of unrestricted assets to indebtedness and meets all bond or loan-related agreements.

Simpson was responsible for repairing and replacing computer equipment throughout Webster’s satellite locations. Beginning in 2018 and continuing for approximately five years, Simpson enriched himself by defrauding the university and its computer equipment vendor.

After the university approved the purchase of hundreds of computer items for more than $1 million, Simpson sold the equipment to a third-party vendor without authorization or approval from the university.

Simpson received electronic payments to his personal bank account via interstate money wirings, according to court documents.

Simpson also orchestrated a scheme where he claimed computer equipment purchased by the university from the vendor C.S.I. was defective.

“In truth and in fact – as the defendant well knew – there was no defective IT equipment and he would not, and did not, return any of the equipment to C.S.I.” according to the court document.

Simpson obtained 56 items from C.S.I. and sold the items for $780,233, to a third-party vendor, according to the plea document.

“While we are not able to comment on this ongoing law enforcement proceeding, the crimes for which Mr. Simpson has admitted guilt represent intentional deception and deliberate violations of numerous policies and procedures that he was required to follow,” Patrick Giblin, the university’s director of public relations, wrote in an emailed statement to The Center Square. “We look forward to seeing this matter addressed through the justice system. Over the past several months, we have enhanced purchasing procedures, protocols and audits to strengthen protections against this type of misconduct in the future.”

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