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Four Accused of Stealing Nearly $6M from Columbia University

The library at Columbia University.
The library at Columbia University.
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MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT—Four men on trial for stealing nearly $6 million from Columbia University by electronically looting the school's funds said Thursday that they were not to blame—the cash just appeared in their accounts.

"I don't understand why I'm here," Jeremy Dieudonne, one of the men accused of helping to set up the scam—who's representing himself—told a jury. "Money came to my account to do trade, [for] business, and that's it."

Prosecutors saw things differently, alleging the men rerouted Columbia payments meant for New York-Presbyterian Hospital two years ago into a bank account of a tech company created by George Castro, 49, a computer expert and the alleged ringleader of the scheme.

The scam, aided by two Columbia accounts payable employees, involved siphoning millions from the university by manipulating information related to Columbia's bill-paying system—more than $5 million over six weeks. The money was then transferred into the accounts of Dieudonne, Castro and another codefendant, Walter Stephens Jr., prosecutors said.

When police arrested Castro, a Bronx resident, in November 2010, he was caught with $200,000 in cash and an $80,000 Audi.

"The money just appeared in my account,” Castro told authorities at the time, according to the complaint. “I got greedy. I bought the car with money from the account and made other purchases.”

The men, and the fourth defendant, Joseph Pineras, a Columbia employee, were charged with grand larceny and face up to 25 years in jail.

A fifth defendant, Moise Jeanpaul, not on trial with the group, is expected to testify against the other scammers.