April 25, 2024

Ex-N.Y.U. Official Admits She Stole Public Money to Add Pool at Her Home

A former New York University administrator admitted on Tuesday to spending $80,000 in public money meant for minority- and women-owned businesses on a swimming pool at her Connecticut home as part of a broader $3.5 million fraud she orchestrated, officials said.

The former administrator, Cindy Tappe, made the admission while pleading guilty to second-degree grand larceny, court records show. Under a plea agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, she will be sentenced to five years’ probation and must pay $663,209 in restitution to cover the full sum of money she diverted for personal expenses.

Ms. Tappe’s “fraudulent actions not only threatened to affect the quality of education for students with disabilities and multilingual students, but denied our city’s minority- and women-owned business enterprises a chance to fairly compete for funding,” Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement.

Deborah Colson, Ms. Tappe’s lawyer, said in a statement that her client “strongly regrets her misconduct.”

“She accepted responsibility for her wrongdoing in open court and will pay the restitution in full prior to sentencing,” Ms. Colson said. “After that, she looks forward to putting this case behind her.”

Ms. Tappe, 57, of Westport, Conn., carried out the scheme from 2012 to 2018 while she was the director of finance and administration at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and Transformation of Schools, or Metro Center, at N.Y.U.

The center, a nonprofit organization within the university’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, was founded in 1978 and has as its mission increasing equity in public education.

Ms. Tappe’s scheme, officials said, involved $23 million in state grant money that was awarded to the center for two programs: one meant to help school districts improve results among students learning English and another aimed at addressing the unequal treatment of special education students.

The grants’ terms required that some of the money go to women- and minority-owned businesses, which would administer the programs. Ms. Tappe, prosecutors said, steered $3.5 million of the money through several subcontractors, who took their own cuts and then sent about $3.4 million to shell companies that she had created.

Some of that money was spent on legitimate grant-related expenses and to reimburse university employees for costs they had incurred or services they had rendered.

But using the shell companies, Ms. Tappe spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal expenses, including the pool, other home improvements and day-to-day living costs, prosecutors said.

The scheme unraveled after an N.Y.U. program director confronted Ms. Tappe in 2018. She left her job at the university that year, and the theft was reported to the State Education Department, which referred the matter to the state comptroller’s office. After conducting its own inquiry, the office referred the case to Manhattan prosecutors.

John Beckman, a university spokesman, said in a statement that N.Y.U. officials were “deeply disappointed that Ms. Tappe abused the trust we placed in her in this way.”

“She stole from everyone — the taxpayer, the university, the people the Metro Center is supposed to help,” Mr. Beckman said, adding that N.Y.U. was “glad that the case has been brought to a close.”

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