Karly Krasnow / Sun Staff Photographer

December 1, 2016

Employee Tip Sparks Arrest of Former ILR Admin for $360K Theft

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A supervisor’s tip about an “unusual purchase” led to the arrest of a former ILR administrator accused of purchasing 100 cameras using Cornell’s money, according to a statement to be released Friday by Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner.

The supervisor alerted Cornell in January that Colleen Clauson, who was responsible for buying equipment for faculty, had purchased $15,000 worth of Canon cameras that were not listed in the ILR School’s inventory, according to the statement obtained by The Sun.

A joint investigation by the Audit Office and Cornell Police found that the purchase was just the tip of the iceberg, according to Zoner, and led to an indictment in Tompkins County Court alleging that Clauson made 38 fraudulent purchases of 100 cameras and eight lenses totaling $367,360 between July 2011 and August 2015.

After purchasing the cameras and lenses with Cornell’s money and having them shipped to the ILR School mailroom, Clauson sold them over the internet “at a highly reduced cost,” primarily to a buyer in California, according to the indictment.

Clauson, who now resides in Reno, Nevada, was indicted and arraigned in September and charged with grand larceny in the second degree, a class C felony with a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. She paid $10,000 cash bail and was released.

The ex-administrator “was not able to provide an explanation for the financial irregularities” when she was interviewed by a Cornell Police investigator in January at Barton Hall, immediately adjacent to her former office building in Ives Hall, according to court documents.

Zoner said Cornell fired Clauson after the Audit Office found that she had misappropriated University assets, in violation of Policy 3.6, which requires that employees report financial irregularities. A now-deleted Cornell website listed Clauson’s position as desktop support manager.

Attorney Joseph Joch, who is representing Clauson, claimed that the audit was handled “improperly” by other employees and implied that multiple employees are making fraudulent purchases.

“[Cornell is] afraid to reveal the extent of it,” he told The Sun. “They’re afraid to open up a Pandora’s box that might show that there are a number of employees contributing to the losses.”

Cornell denied The Sun’s request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law for a copy of the internal audit, claiming the release of the audit could, among other things, deprive Clauson of her right to a fair trial.

Pretrial motions are due Friday, according to Zoner’s statement, and the trial is set to begin in front of Judge John C. Rowley on Jan. 30.

  • Reality Check

    What accountability deficiencies at the unit level and above enabled this person to misappropriate $360K in cameras over a four-year period? Some supervisor(s?) in ILR presumably signed for 100 cameras without ever verifying receipt and need. I suspect that non-release of the mentioned audit is based at least as much on embarrassment to Cornell as on fair-trial issues with respect to the defendant.

    • really

      Come on, anybody who’s been at Cornell long enough for the honeymoon to wear off knows that extravagant waste while neglecting real needs is standard procedure. Gotta find ways to justify the exponential tuition increases.

  • Matthew Turner

    Really ‘little kid’? Ask ILR for a complete inventory of their equipment purchases and tell me where you think the theft is? Very sad your investigative skills have led you to believe one side….ask some of the supervisors how their kids like their new iPhones…on the school’s dime of course…

    • Force

      🙂 Very True

  • Force

    There should be accountability at all levels! Who was supposed to monitor the expenses of the department? The supervisor of the department, Yes! But isn’t there a designated manager in finance that should be monitoring their budget quarterly? Just saying… 🙂