Webster University employee accused of embezzling more than $380,000

Prosecutors say 61-year-old Deborah Pierce embezzled $380,000 from the Confucius Institute, a cultural program at Webster University.

ST. LOUIS - An employee of Webster University was indicted on federal fraud charges Wednesday, after she was accused of embezzling more than $380,000 from a university program.

According to a press release from the United States Attorney's Office, Deborah Pierce, 61, is accused of using money intended for a joint education program to pay bills for herself and her family.

Pierce was appointed the director of the Confucius Institute at Webster University, a joint program that was funded primarily by the university and the People's Republic of China. The indictment states she opened an unauthorized bank account in 2013, of which she had sole control.

She used this account to direct funds for the program, but also used it for personal reasons, the press release said. Using this bank account, she wrote checks to cash, checks to herself and paid bills for herself and her family. In all, the indictment said Pierce diverted more than $380,000 to herself from the program's funds between September 2013 and June 2016.

Webster University released a statement Tuesday, which said the missing money was discovered in an internal audit. After an internal investigation, the university turned its information over to the FBI and Postal Inspection Service, who carried out the investigation.

The university said Pierce resigned her position as the director of the institute. Her husband, who was serving as director of governmental and business affairs for the institute, also resigned.

The university has appointed an interim director.

If convicted of mail fraud, Pierce could face up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 or both.


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