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Ex-employee charged with theft

Photo: Polk County Jail

Former Drake University employee Robert Harlan, 49, was charged last week with five counts of first-degree theft in connection with the embezzlement of more than $470,000 from the university.

Des Moines police Sgt. Chris Scott said that on March 28, officials from the university contacted the police suspecting that somebody on their staff was misusing funds for personal use. Seventeen days later, Vicky Payseur, vice president for business and finance, announced the misappropriation of funds in a campuswide email.

“A recent internal investigation in the Cashier’s Office suggested certain University accounting records had been manipulated to allow institutional funds to be converted to an employee’s personal use,” Payseur said in the email. “This individual is no longer employed by the University. The matter has been turned over to law enforcement.”

Scott said he did not know what specific accounts were compromised in this case.

Drake President David Maxwell said that no confidential information was accessed and that the money taken was “petty cash.” Payseur said that petty cash would be used for transactions involving cashing checks, sporting events, ticket sales and student events and activities.

Maxwell and Scott said the university conducted internal and external audits before involving the police department. Payseur said the internal audits were conducted by KPMG and the external audits by Deloitte.

After a preliminary investigation, the police department pinpointed Harlan as the suspect, Scott said. Police believe the misuse of funds dates to 2004 and continued until March of this year.

The total amount of money embezzled from the university is over $600,000, but Harlan is being charged in the theft of  $470,000. and with five counts of first-degree theft, one count for each of the last five years. Each count is punishable up to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.

Harlan had been at the university for over 20 years and was the director of student accounts for the past 10.

Carolyn Nelson, the budget director at the university, declined to comment on the situation and said to contact the police department with any further concerns.

On April 21, Harlan turned himself into authorities just before 9 a.m. That same day, Payseur held a press conference.

“I don’t want to make any personal comments but I will tell you that there is a strong sense of betrayal when this happens,” she said during the press conference. “I think there is a sense of betrayal and then there’s also a sense ‘We’ve got to get through this’ and we’ve got to develop a control so that this can’t happen again.”

Scott said that Harlan was cooperating with the investigation.

It is unclear where the money went, but Scott said he suspects that some of the money is recoverable. The police also believe that Harlan acted alone.

On April 20, Maxwell spoke at the university’s Faculty Senate meeting.

“Charges have been brought, and a criminal case is under way,” he said.

Scott said he didn’t think Drake was in crisis.

“I’m confident that Drake will work hard to make sure it (embezzlement) will not happen again,” Scott said.

How much is $600,000 really worth?

  • 21 students for one year, or 5 four-year undergrad degrees
  • 150 Sodexo meal plans
  • 76 loads of laundry for every undergraduate student
  • 150,000 Peggy’s mugs on mug night
  • 7,058 all-access tickets to the Drake Relays

Horsch is a junior news/Internet and rhetoric double major. She serves as the TD's Editor-in-Chief. She has been on staff for three years and has been the editor since January 2012.

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