Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs / City Editor

Former ILR School employee Colleen Clauson pleaded guilty on Monday to grand larceny in the second degree, a felony, for fraudulently purchasing $360,000 worth of cameras and selling them online, Tompkins County's prosecutor said.

March 28, 2017

Former Employee Pleads Guilty to Embezzling $360K From Cornell, DA Says

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A former Cornell employee accused of purchasing 100 cameras with University funds and selling them for profit pleaded guilty to a felony on Monday and agreed to pay $150,000 in restitution to Cornell, Tompkins County’s prosecutor told The Sun.

Cornell Police and county prosecutors said late last year that Colleen Clauson, a former School of Industrial and Labor Relations administrator, fraudulently purchased 100 cameras and eight lenses worth $367,360 between July 2011 and August 2015 and sold them online to make a profit.

District Attorney Matthew Van Houten told The Sun on Tuesday that Clauson has agreed to plead guilty to grand larceny in the second degree — a class C felony — and pay about 40 percent of what the items she allegedly stole are worth.

Van Houten said Clauson has already paid partial restitution of $50,000 to Cornell and will owe $25,000 at sentencing. The deal reached requires Clauson to pay an additional $75,000 over the duration of her probation sentence, the prosecutor said.

A judge will ultimately need to approve any deal at sentencing, likely in May. That sentence could include jail time, although Van Houten declined to say what conditions or sentence he will request in addition to the restitution, and Clauson’s attorney, Joseph Joch, was traveling and could not be reached on Tuesday afternoon, an assistant said.

The alleged embezzlement took place over four years and was only discovered when a supervisor alerted the University in January 2016 that Clauson had made an “unusual purchase” of $15,000 worth of Canon cameras that were not listed in the ILR School’s inventory, The Sun previously reported.

Cornell’s Audit Office and CUPD investigated and determined that Clauson had been making fraudulent purchases with Cornell’s money for years, receiving equipment in the ILR School mailroom and selling the cameras and lenses “at a highly reduced cost,” primarily to a buyer in California.

Clauson, listed as a desktop support manager on a now-deleted Cornell website, “was not able to provide an explanation for the financial irregularities” when an investigator interviewed her last year at the Cornell Police Department, according to court documents.

Grand larceny in the second degree carries a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison, although there is no mandatory minimum for the felony in New York.

Zoner said in December that Cornell fired Clauson, who now lives in Reno, Nevada, after the Audit Office found she had misappropriated University assets, in violation of Policy 3.6, which requires that employees report financial irregularities.

“We are pleased that the offices of the District Attorney were able to resolve this issue with partial restitution included,” CUPD Chief Kathy Zoner said in an email on Tuesday.