August 14, 2018

Former Webster director sentenced to probation

Updated 3/14/2018

A former director at Webster University was sentenced on Monday to a 5-year probation and ordered to fill out a 65-page journal after embezzling $380,000 from Webster.

Eastern District of Missouri Judge Henry Autrey ordered Deborah Pierce to repay the money she embezzled while she was the director of Webster’s Confucius Institute from 2007 to July 2015.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported Judge Autrey said there was “no rational basis for a woman from a good background, with no history of daily abuse or drug problems and ample income to have committed this crime.”

Judge Autrey gave Pierce 60 days to finish the journal and deliver to her probation officer. Court documents say Judge Autrey ordered Pierce to explain her motives in the journal as well as what she has learned along the way.

“You will journal..what the motivational factors were, what you have learned about you that can assist you in not re-offending, and what you can impart to others who might be leaning toward doing the same thing that will benefit them in not engaging in conduct,” Judge Autrey wrote in the special conditions of supervision section in Pierce’s probation document.

Pierce was charged in November 2016 with federal fraud. The Eastern District of Missouri of the U.S. Department of Justice published a statement on Nov. 16, 2016 saying Pierce was entrusted with the oversight of the Institute’s funding and had established a separate unauthorized bank account and directed the funds of the Institute through it.

“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 stated.

Pierce wrote a check for herself for $10,000 in February 2014 and cashed it according to court documents. She made two payments for her son’s student loans totalling $9,500 in March and April of 2014. She then diverted $20,600 from the account to her husband’s retirement fund in November 2014.

Court documents also say Pierce diverted $100,000 from the Confucius Institute to personal credit card accounts during the life of the scheme. She also diverted $36,000 to herself through checks and ATM withdrawals from deposits intended to the Confucius Institute.

Pierce pleaded not guilty on Dec. 6, 2016 and requested additional time to investigate pretrial motions. The U.S., the plaintiff in this case, did not object. Pierce later changed her plea to guilty on Sept. 14, 2017 to one count of superseding information. U.S. attorney Thomas Albus alleges that Pierce transported stolen merchandise of a value of $5,000 in interstate commerce.

Webster’s President Elizabeth Stroble said Pierce’s actions impacted Webster in three main areas in a victim impact statement addressed to Judge Autrey in December 2017. She said the embezzlement caused financial damage, reputational damage and institutional relations damage.

“As you can imagine, Ms. Pierce’s embezzlement of funds has placed into question the integrity of the entire Confucius Institute program,” Stroble said.

Stroble also said Webster spent more than $52,000 in legal fees to investigate the situation. She said she will never know how many students Webster lost from the program as well as the loss of potential partnerships and donor contributions.

Stroble ended the statement asking Judge Autrey to consider all the damages Pierce’s actions have had on Webster and its students and faculty.

The Journal will update the story as more information becomes available.

 

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