Ex-Professor Who Embezzled $380,000 From University Gets Writing Assignment, Probation

A 62-year-old former professor and college director, who embezzled more than $380,000 from Missouri’s Webster University was sentenced to probation Monday (March 12), and ordered to write in a journal. Deborah Pierce, of St. Louis, originally faced up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud, but a judge opted against putting her behind bars after asking Pierce what she thought her punishment should be, the St. Louis Dispatch reports.

U.S. District Judge Henry Autrey reprimanded Pierce for her “reprehensible” behavior, but concluded that she seemed to be “having fun and needed extra cash,” according to the Dispatch.

Pierce is the former director of Webster’s Confucius Institute, which aims to “provide the St. Louis community with opportunities to learn about Chinese language and culture.” In 2013, Pierce opened a “separate, unauthorized bank account over which she had sole control and directed the funds of the Confucius Institute through it,” according to a federal indictment.

Pierce was alleged to have diverted the Institute’s money into her bank account between 2013 and 2016 by “writing checks to cash, checks to herself.” She used the money to pay “various personal bills and accounts and those of her family members.”

Last September, Pierce pleaded guilty to transporting funds across state lines, but would only admit to stealing $180,000.

During her sentencing, Pierce reportedly cried and held onto her lawyer, when Autrey asked her if she wanted to serve the 12 months suggested by her attorney, the 18 months recommended by prosecutors, or a two-year sentence.

In the end, Autrey took mercy on Pierce. “I think it’s important for those people to know about people like you,” Autrey said, apparently noting that criminals are typically stereotyped as being “poor, from the hood, and black.”

Besides probation, Autrey gave Pierce a two-month deadline to complete a 65-page journal. She was also ordered to pay back the stolen money.

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