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New Jersey Grandfather Gets 3 to 9 Years in Columbia Theft

A New Jersey grandfather convicted last month in connection with a $5.7 million theft from Columbia University was sentenced to three to nine years in prison.

Justice Robert Stolz of New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan handed down the sentence today against 66-year-old Walter Stephens Jr., one of four men convicted of grand larceny and other charges on Aug. 7 after a two-week trial.

The four men 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.

Two of the men, George Castro, 50, of the Bronx, and Jeremy Dieudonne, 47, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, were sentenced to 7 to 21 years in prison by Stolz on Sept. 24. Another man, Joseph Pineras, 36, of the Bronx, the only defendant who worked for the school, is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

Stephens, of Jersey City, was sentenced to three to nine years on one count of grand larceny, three to nine years on one count of first degree criminal possession of stolen property, and two to six years on one count of third degree possession of stolen property. The sentences will run concurrently.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose sentences of four to 12 years for each of the first degree counts and two to six years on the third degree charge, citing prior convictions for theft, breaking and entering and bank robbery.

Poor Health

Stephens’s lawyer, Lorin Nathan of the Legal Aid Society, asked for the minimum of one to three years, saying his client’s health is poor and he is in “extreme economic difficulty.”

Stephens, Castro and Dieudonne, 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 & Securities Solutions, prosecutors said.

Stephens told the judge today that he had done consulting work for Castro, who told him he had found outside investors yet didn’t identify them or say where the money came from.

“I am very angry,” Stephens said. “I am angry because aspersions have been placed upon my person which are groundless.”

Brokerage Accounts

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.

Stephens also bought plane tickets, suits and jewelry with the stolen funds, prosecutors said.

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.

About $3.5 million of the stolen funds has been recovered, prosecutors said in court today.

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 multiple telephone messages and Vance’s office 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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