Officials: Woman Diverted $770,000 In UConn Money To Personal Account
Muthini Nzuki, 38, of Kennesaw, Ga., was charged in connection with the theft of $773,079 in UConn funds. (UConn police)
UConn police say a Georgia woman stole $773,079 in university payments intended for Dell Computers and laundered the money through her personal bank account. Her lawyer counters that she was “duped.”
Muthini Nzuki, 39, of Kennesaw, Ga., was arraigned Friday in Superior Court in Rockville on charges of first-degree larceny and first-degree computer crimes. A judge set her bail at $500,000 and ordered her to turn in her passport if she intends to post bail.
“This was an elaborate financial scheme between this defendant and perhaps other co-conspirators,” Tolland State’s Attorney Matthew C. Gedansky said Friday during Nzuki’s arraignment. “Over a period of a month to six weeks this accused … hacked into [a] third party’s account and changed the routing numbers.”
Shortly after the scheme was discovered, Nzuki left the U.S. for her native Kenya, Gedansky said. He asked Judge Sheila M. Prats to set Nzuki’s bail at $1 million, citing her lack of ties to the state, her ties to Kenya and the fact she fought extradition to Connecticut.
“She clearly has ties outside this country,” Gedansky said. “She fled the us to Kenya via France at the end of May at the end of this scheme.”
PaymentWorks website features its affiliation with UConn. (PaymentWorks.com/screen grab)
Defense attorney John O’Brien said Nzuki’s visit to Kenya was a pre-planned vacation to visit family and friends, and that she was duped into participating the scheme by other Kenyans who told her they needed her help obtaining a $3 million inheritance. She was taken into custody in August when she returned the U.S. Nzuki is a naturalized U.S. citizen and the mother of two young children, O’Brien said.
“She’s as much of a victim as the state of Connecticut and the University of Connecticut is by being duped … by others with criminal intent,” O’Brien said. “The lady wishes to defend herself and cooperate with the government.”
UConn police became aware of the thefts in June, when Dell reported that it had not received payments from the university, according to the warrant for Nzuki’s arrest. University officials determined that those payments had cleared and suggested Dell check its records further.
University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said UConn did not suffer a financial loss and is not on the hook to repay the funds to Dell. Payment will be worked out by the vendor and Dell, she said.
UConn police Det. Marc Hanna contacted the vendor, PaymentWorks of Cambridge, Mass., which has a contract with UConn to facilitate payments between the university and its vendors. The payments to Dell were made through PaymentWorks, according to the warrant.
Hanna’s investigation revealed that someone had set up an account through PaymentWorks, using Dell’s taxpayer identification number, and directed the payments to a bank in Georgia. The email address used to set up the account was phony and created through a free email service in Germany, and the name attached to the account was not that of a Dell employee, the company told Hanna.
PaymentWorks determined that the IP addresses through which the account was set up on its website were masked and investigators were not able to determine the location or identity of those who set up the fraudulent account. But they were able to determine that the money went into Nzuki’s account at a Synovus Bank in Georgia.
Synovus Bank refused to comply with a search warrant authorized by a Connecticut judge, so Hanna obtained Nzuki’s bank records with the help of police in Georgia.
The records showed 32 transfers, totaling $773,079, to an account controlled by Nzuki. The transfers began April 13 and ended May 22. All were identified as coming from UConn. As of May 31, the records showed that Nzuki’s account was overdrawn by $844.
The investigated showed that 24 checks totaling $694,850 were written, plus $78,229 in ATM withdrawals and debit payments. Purchases included $29 charge at a local buffet and a $3,000 from a custom countertop business in Georgia.
Outside court on Friday, O’Brien said Nzuki told him that she was contacted by people from Kenya who wanted her to use her bank account. “She’s explained to me that some other countrymen from Kenya contacted her to use her bank accounts, claiming that they had no other access to bank accounts, and were going to be involved in processing some proceeds from an inheritance from a relative in Connecticut,” O’Brien said. “So I’ve just got to get to the bottom of it. She wants to cooperate with the state of Connecticut.”
Nzuki was not aware she was involved in any sort of nefarious activity, O’Brien said. “She was told this was all a legitimate process of transferring funds from Connecticut as part of an inheritance,” he said. “That’s what she was told, that’s what she believed.” She even spoke to a person she believed to be a lawyer, which made it seem even more legitimate, he said.
“She’s not a very sophisticated lady,” O’Brien said. “She’s been caught up in something. It was not her intention to steal nearly a million from the state of Connecticut.”
Gedansky disputed O’Brien’s claims. “She was not a victim in this scheme,” he said. “She was a participant.”
A spokesperson for PaymentWorks said the company is working with UConn to resolve the matter and assisting police. “The University of Connecticut, Dell, and our company were targets of a sophisticated fraud,” the spokesperson said.
PaymentWorks touts its business with UConn on its website: “PaymentWorks has helped us reduce cycle time — from 14 days to 2 days — and made the process much more efficient and secure.”
Article From:- http://www.courant.com