STICKY FINGERS Stevens worker charged


Stevens worker charged

Saturday, August 05, 2006
Jersey Journal

HOBOKEN - Stevens Institute of Technology employee Donna Johnson was living high on the hog and taking trip after trip, but her next voyage may be up the proverbial river, authorities said.

Johnson allegedly stole more than $300,000 from the prestigious university over a four-year period and apparently spent the wads of cash on trips and other lavish items, Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said yesterday.

But those good times hit a brick wall Wednesday after she was arrested by detectives of the Hudson County Prosecutor's Officers Special Investigations Unit and charged with theft by deception, DeFazio said.

Johnson's Jersey City lawyer, Daniel Welsh, said: "She is not guilty, and we are going to place our faith in the justice system."

Johnson, an office manager in the undergraduate admissions department, managed to take about $309,000 between June 2001 and November 2005, DeFazio said. Investigators determined she was filing for fictitious expenses - like fake luncheons and other events - and pocketing the money, he said.

"A lot of it seemed to be expenses she alleged were incurred due to events held on the campus, such as catering for lunches and breakfasts and that sort of thing," DeFazio said, noting that the expenses were fictitious.

"Based on interviews it was clear she was living well beyond her means," DeFazio said. "Apparently there were numerous trips, including trips out of the country."

Stevens spokesman Patrick Berzinski said the university has completely revamped petty cash procedures, as well as other procedures, relating to such internal transactions.

"We are still learning the latest developments in this matter, and while we await the news of those developments we are reserving comments on this case," said Stevens spokesman Berzinski.

College officials took a while to notice Johnson was allegedly pocketing more than $5,800 from the college's petty cash fund during each of the 53 months she was on the take, DeFazio said. A red flag was raised during an audit, officials said.

The proceeds of the embezzlement were far more than Johnson needed to pay her rent at 2 Marine View Plaza, which boasts an eight-year waiting list due to its status as an affordable housing site.

A judge set Johnson's bail at $50,000 and she was able to post the required 10 percent in cash, DeFazio said.

The charge of theft by deception carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison upon conviction, said Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor Michael D'Andrea. There is a presumption of incarceration, D'Andrea noted.

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