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Columbia theft suspect caught in Lawrence

By Mark Arsenault
Globe Staff / August 4, 2011

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A fugitive captured in Lawrence last week is back in New York, facing charges he helped embezzle nearly $6 million from elite Columbia University.

Jeremy Dieudonne of New York City, 46, pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan courtroom yesterday to accusations that he took part in intercepting electronic payments from Columbia’s medical school that were intended for the university’s affiliated hospital, according to the office of the New York County district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

Dieudonne is accused of conspiring with two other men, George Castro of the Bronx, 49, and Walter Stephens of Jersey City, N.J., 65, to trick the Ivy League school into sending $5.7 million over two months to their company, IT & Securities Solutions LLC, instead of to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where the payments were supposed to go.

Neither the district attorney nor the school would explain how the three men allegedly managed to infiltrate Columbia’s accounts payable department, though they said none of the defendants or their company were affiliated with the university or with the hospital. A school spokesman said the alleged crime was not a case of computer hacking but declined to provide more detail.

The three men are accused of diverting 56 electronic payments last year from the Columbia University Medical Center into a TD Bank account registered to their company, according to the government.

Large payments between the medical school and its affiliated hospital are common, and the defendants are accused of piling up millions of dollars in just weeks last October and November.

Dieudonne had been a wanted man since a New York grand jury indicted him in June on grand larceny charges.

Investigators from the New York District Attorney’s Office visited Lawrence on July 27, armed with a possible address where Dieudonne had been hiding out: a large apartment building on Marston Street near Interstate 495, according to Lawrence police. The building is only a few years old; rents in the building range from $945-$1,525.

Vance’s office declined to say yesterday how investigators obtained the Lawrence address.

Dieudonne was not around the day New York investigators visited, but local and state police followed up last Friday and found Dieudonne at the apartment building, apparently living under the alias Hector Santiago, police said.

When officers confronted Dieudonne with a warrant from New York, he dropped the ruse and admitted his real name, the police said.

Dieudonne is accused of receiving at least $285,000 in money stolen from the university, according to Vance’s office. When he was arrested, the fugitive had three cellphones, numerous credentials - including a Massachusetts driver’s license in the name of his alleged alias - and credit cards in his own name, the police said. He was turned over the New York authorities.

The multimillion dollar embezzlement was discovered by Columbia last November. Within days, authorities arrested Castro at his home as he was getting into a new $80,000 Audi Q7 he allegedly bought with the university’s stolen money, authorities said.

The government also accused Castro of trying to launder millions of dollars by spreading the cash into other bank accounts and sending money to family and friends. He spent at least $300,000 of the stolen money, including more than $18,000 on Apple products, and was carrying $200,000 in cash at the time of his arrest, said Vance.

Stephens is accused of receiving at least $38,500 in stolen money.

Columbia University can find no records that any of the men were alumni, though Stephens claims the school as his alma mater on a Facebook page.

The three men are each facing charges of grand larceny in the first degree, a felony in New York punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com.