$3K embezzled from student organizations

By Chelsea Lane | 2/26/12 10:26pm

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Courtesy Photo / Olivia Ziegler
2011-2012 Synchronized Skating team at their Grand Valley spirit day practice.
Approximately $1,000 was embezzled from the student organization’s account.

by Courtesy photo / Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Grand Valley State University Police Department recently closed two cases regarding two students embezzling a total of over $3,000 from student organizations Vertical Earth and the Synchronized Skating Club. Although the cases share similarities, GVPD said it has no reason to believe the incidents are related or connected in any way and that each student appeared to be acting alone.

Assistant Director of GVPD, Capt. Brandon DeHaan, said GVPD first became aware of the incidents at the end of August, when the Synchronized Skating Club filed a police report stating that after reviewing the club’s finances, officers discovered approximately $1,000 in unauthorized charges had been made from April to June using the debit card linked to the club’s bank account. GVPD then launched a full investigation into the disputed charges, which consisted of personal purchases unrelated to official club business or equipment.

Criminal charges were ultimately filed as a result of the investigation the former club officer pled guilty to embezzlement of $200 or more but less than $1,000. The officer was sentenced to pay $1,800 in restitution and costs, as well as serve 12 months of probation.

Shortly after GVPD began investigating the Synchronized Skating Club incident, a separate report was filed by rock climbing club Vertical Earth. Vertical Earth alleged that about $2,000 in unauthorized personal charges had been made by a member using the club’s debit card. The card charges were made over approximately the same time period as those in the Synchronized Skating Club case.

After conducting an investigation, GVPD filed a report with the Ottawa County prosecutor’s office. However, the suspect then paid full restitution to Vertical Earth and no criminal charges were filed. Since the suspect was never arraigned in a court of law, his or her name has not been released.

Representatives from both the Synchronized Skating Club and Vertical Earth declined to provide any comments
to the Lanthorn. Both and charged club member and the suspect in the Vertical Earth case have subsequently either graduated or left the university.

The cases may potentially have long-term impact on GVSU’s official student organization policies.

Aaron Haight, assistant director of Student Life, said the university policies for student organizations, including financial policies, are currently under review and the new changes will be reflected in the 2012-13 Registered Student Organization Handbook.

Haight added that all student organization policies undergo a complete review every few years.

In the meantime, Haight had several recommendations for securing student organizations’ finances to prevent similar incidents from taking place within other clubs.

“Monitoring off-campus accounts are the organization’s responsibility,” she said. “We recommend that there are two signatures (required for check processing authorization) and that the advisor reviews the account each month with the officers. Also, we do not recommend the use of debit cards for student organizations.”

According to the current addition of the RSO Handbook, finances must be managed “in a business-like manner” and the organization’s treasurer “should develop an annual budget, maintain records of income and expenses, and regularly report the financial status of the organization to the officers, advisor(s) and the general membership.”

The university can review an organization’s finances if the organization requests.

The handbook does not mention or set specific guidelines regarding the establishment or use of club debit cards. However, there are guidelines for organizations that set up their own bank accounts.

Student organizations that maintain a bank account must do so with a bank in either Kent or Ottawa County and the account must be in the name of organization, as verified by the Office of Student Life.

Organizations with checking accounts must have two authorized signatures on a check before it can be processed.

Haight said warning signs of potential embezzlement include unaccounted withdrawals and purchases made without receipts. If any organization suspects it may be the victim of fraud, embezzlement or any other crime, Haight advised contacting the Office of Student Life immediately.

DeHaan added that an organization that suspects it may have been the victim of a crime can file reports with GVPD, which will then investigate the matter and notify any additional departments or organizations as needed.

“Anyone that is a victim of any crime should report it to the police department,” he said. “We in turn will contact any appropriate organization for additional follow-up during the course of the investigation.”

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