September 24, 2017

Former head of Webster’s Confucius Institute allegedly embezzled more than $380,000 from project

Deborah Pierce’s indictment was announced in a press release from Eastern District of Missouri office of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). | Photo from Webster University Archives

Deborah Pierce’s indictment was announced in a press release from Eastern District of Missouri office of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). | Photo from Webster University Archives

The former head of Webster University’s Confucius Institute was indicted today on federal fraud charges after allegedly embezzling more than $380,000 from the project.

Deborah Pierce’s indictment was announced today in a press release from Eastern District of Missouri office of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

“Between September 2013 and June 2016, it is alleged that Pierce diverted more than $380,000 to herself from the Institute’s funds by writing checks to cash, checks to herself, and paying various personal bills and accounts and those of her family members,” the release states.

The Confucius Institute is a Chinese language and culture program that is funded collaboratively by Webster University and the government of the People’s Republic of China. While serving as the Institute’s director, Pierce had sole control over its funds.

An internal audit in August found funds “intended for the institute and sent from the Chinese Ministry of Education had been redirected without the knowledge or authority of the university to an unauthorized bank account,” according to a Webster statement. The university then turned that evidence over to federal investigators.

Pierce left Webster earlier this year; The Journal reported on Oct. 4 that Bill Lynch had been named as the interim head of the Confucius Institute. According to Webster’s statement, Pierce and her husband, who also worked for the Confucius Institute, both resigned. 

Pierce is facing charges of mail fraud and could be sentenced to up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000 or both.

According to the DOJ press release, the investigation into Pierce was conducted by the FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service with help from Webster University.

The Journal reported on concerns with Webster’s relationship with the institute in 2014. Read more here.

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