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Four convicted in scheme to steal $6 million from Columbia University

Four men were convicted Tuesday in what authorities described as a computer-savvy scheme to steal almost $6 million from Columbia University by tampering with its bill-payment system, the Associated Press reported.

George Castro, Jeremy Dieudonne, Joseph Pineras and Walter Stephens Jr. stood stolidly as jurors delivered their verdict. Each man faces at least one to three years in prison at a sentencing set for Sept. 24.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said the scam entailed manipulating Columbia's vendor-payment system to siphon off money that was meant for a hospital. The defense, meanwhile, said the men didn't realize money was being stolen.


According to prosecutors, the money was diverted into a bank account held by Castro's information technology business, and some cash later went into accounts held by Dieudonne and Stephens.

Pineras worked in Columbia's finance department. Prosecutors say he got about $10,000 for aiding the scheme.

New York police started investigating in November when a university official reported that the accounts payable system had been tampered with to change account information for New York-Presbyterian Hospital, the Eagle-Tribune reported. New York-Presbyterian is a teaching hospital affiliated with Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medical College. 

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Kim Han said the men teamed up to bilk Columbia to solve their own financial problems.

Castro bought himself an $80,000 Audi and was arrested carrying $200,000 in cash, prosecutors said. He told a police officer the money "just appeared in my account," authorities said in a court document. During the trial, Castro said he thought the money was coming from investors Dieudonne had lined up.

"He has no sense, at all, that the money is stolen," his lawyer, Michele Hauser, told jurors Friday.

Dieudonne, who represented himself, said he was "just doing business, perfectly legal business — nothing crooked."

The 46-year-old Haitian was living under an assumed identity of Hector Santiago when he was arrested on Friday, according to the Eagle-Tribune.

The defense also pointed fingers at another defendant, Moise Jean-Paul, who wasn't on trial and testified against the others. Jean-Paul has pleaded not guilty. He worked with Pineras in Columbia's finance department.

The defense said Jean-Paul lied to prosecutors to incriminate the others and help himself.

"He is a thief, and he is a liar," said Pineras' lawyer, Robert Anesi.

He and Castro declined to comment as Castro left court on $5,000 bond, his pregnant wife in tears. The other men are jailed; their lawyers declined to comment.

Jean-Paul's lawyer hasn't returned calls seeking comment during the trial.

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