Saturday, April 23, 2011

Drake U. Hit With $600,000 Embezzlement

Robert A. Harlan worked for Drake University for over 20 years - and starting in 2004, authorities allege, he embezzled more than $600,000 from the school, an allegation that stunned his colleagues.

"There was a strong sense of betrayal when this happened," said Victoria Payseur, vice president for business and finance and the university's treasurer.
Harlan, 49, of Des Moines, turned himself in to police about 8 a.m. Thursday.
He admitted that he took money but didn't think it added up to $600,000, Detective Tarry Pote said, and he reportedly told investigators he gave the money away to friends, family, the needy and a church.
Harlan faces five counts of first-degree theft, one for each year of the last five years that police used in figuring charges. The total taken over that period is listed at $470,000.
The total that disappeared from the university since 2004, however, is more than $600,000.
Over the last 10 years, Harlan had held the title of director of student accounts at the university. Police said he appeared to be the only person involved in the theft.
Harlan arrived at the police station Thursday morning with his wife. He was taken to Polk County Jail for processing. Officials said he posted bond.
First-degree theft is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison on each count.
Police are seeking Harlan's bank records, but he told investigators they would not find the money there. A check with Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino did not turn up evidence that the suspect had been gambling there on a frequent basis.
Investigators also did not see evidence of large sums being spent on his residence.
Payseur said Thursday that the problems were limited to one office and that the university reacted appropriately when it learned that money had been disappearing for years.
"Internal financial controls were circumvented by a veteran employee with knowledge of those controls," she said.
She said that an employee of the business and finance operation at the university uncovered the alleged fraud and that Drake officials immediately notified legal counsel and auditors.
Harlan was then fired.
Payseur said the university has significant internal controls in place to prevent fraud and theft. Additional procedures now are being implemented.
No current student accounts, federal or state money, payroll information, investment accounts, donor information or credit card information appears to have been affected, she said.
The fund from which the money was taken was "almost like a petty cash fund," Payseur said.
Police stress that the money was taken over several years. The annual operating budget for Drake this year is $125 million.
In the west-side neighborhood where Harlan resides, the news of his arrest came as a surprise.
"All I know about him is nice," said Marilyn Brown. "I like living by them. They are very good neighbors."
Next-door neighbor James Cooney said, "We're all surprised by it. He's a very good neighbor. No one suspected anything like this, of course."
He said Harlan's wife, Deanne, is known around the neighborhood as a good cook. They have a son who attends Drake.
Cooney said the Harlan family attends the same church that he attends, Holy Trinity Catholic Church on Beaver Avenue.
Drake University President David Maxwell said Wednesday that a pair of university audits failed to turn up a pattern of missing money from student accounts more than a year ago. Auditors were asked to look at that part of the budget.
He said small sums were taken fairly regularly. "Audits don't always turn up fraud," Maxwell said.
Insurance is expected to cover Drake's losses.

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