Two in Columbia University Theft Get Prison Terms

Two of four men convicted last month of stealing more than $5 million from New York’s Columbia University were sentenced to as long as 21 years in prison.

Justice Robert Stolz of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan today sentenced George Castro, 50, of the Bronx, New York, to seven to 21 years for grand larceny, possession of stolen property and money laundering. Jeremy Dieudonne, 47, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, got the same term for grand larceny and possession of stolen property, and five to 15 years for a second stolen-property charge. All sentences will run concurrently.

Those two, along with Walter Stephens Jr., 66, of Jersey City, New Jersey, and Joseph Pineras, 36, of the Bronx, were convicted Aug. 7 after a two-week jury trial. The four were accused of stealing $5.7 million from the Ivy League school in October and November 2010 by redirecting payments from Columbia that were intended for New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a sentence of eight to 24 years for each count against Castro, saying that the crime was motivated by “callous greed” and that he has shown no remorse for his actions.

Castro’s attorney, Michele Hauser, asked the judge to impose a sentence of 6 to 18 years, saying the scheme was hatched by Dieudonne. Castro, who has served time in prison for armed bank robbery, asked the court for mercy before he was sentenced.

Theft ‘Bridge’

Prosecutors asked the judge to impose a similar sentence for Dieudonne, saying he was the “bridge” that allowed the theft to proceed. Dieudonne, who was arrested in Massachusetts in July 2011, said he received no money from Castro and wasn’t trying to elude authorities.

“I’m not guilty of anything,” said Dieudonne, who represented himself during the trial. “I didn’t do any crime. I’m the son of a preacher. I’m not a thief.”

Castro, Dieudonne and Stephens, with the help of Pineras’s access to the school’s vendor payment system, redirected payments for the hospital into a TD Bank account registered to IT & Securities Solutions LLC, a company formed by Castro, Manhattan District Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office said. Stephens was the chief financial officer and Dieudonne was an executive at IT, prosecutors said.

Audi Q7

Castro withdrew more than $800,000 in cash from the account and spent at least $80,000 on an Audi Q7 and more than $18,000 on products from Apple Inc., prosecutors said. He sent money to other accounts in Stephens’s name and to brokerage accounts he and Stephens controlled, and sent payments to a bank account in the name of Dieudonne Partners & Co., according to prosecutors. He also lost about $400,000 trading on the two accounts.

Castro was arrested in November 2010 outside his home with $200,000 cash while entering his Audi, prosecutors said. Stephens was arrested in June 2011, Dieudonne was apprehended in Massachusetts the following month, and Pineras was taken into custody in January.

At least $4.1 million of the $5.7 million had been identified, frozen or seized Vance’s office said at the time of Castro’s arrest. Prosecutors today said about $1.9 million hasn’t been located.

Cooperating Witness

A former Columbia employee, Moise Jean-Paul, who testified against the four men, pleaded guilty to grand larceny and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a recommendation of no jail time, Robert Anesi, an attorney who had represented Pineras, said after the convictions last month.

Jean-Paul’s attorney, Anthony Martone, didn’t return a telephone message today seeking comment on his client’s case. Vance’s office has declined to comment on that case, saying information about cooperators isn’t public.

Pineras, an accounts payable clerk at Columbia, was the only defendant who worked for the university. The sentencing of Stephens was postponed until later this week and Pineras until November.

Robert Hornsby, a spokesman for the university, didn’t respond to an e-mail or phone call seeking comment on today’s sentencing. The school has declined to comment on the case.

The case is People v. Castro, 11-02922, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).

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