Alleged embezzlers arraigned
Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Updated: Thursday, August 28, 2008 17:08
Former Tufts administrators Jodie Nealley and Ray Rodriguez pled not guilty during an Aug. 12 arraignment to charges that they embezzled nearly $1 million from the university. In the scandal's most recent plot twist, Nealley's lawyer alleged after the proceedings that Rodriguez, out of spite, called in the anonymous tip last year that led auditors to investigate Nealley.
Nealley served as director of the Office of Student Activities, which has since been renamed the Office for Campus Life, from 1996 until she was fired in 2007. Rodriguez was the office's budget and fiscal coordinator from 2001 to 2007.
Prosecutors in Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone's office have said that the pair worked separately as they spent university funds at stores ranging from Whole Foods to Gucci and on a number of international trips.
The money came primarily from the Student Activities Fee that each student pays. Used to support the various on-campus organizations, it generates over $1 million each year.
Nealley's alleged involvement became public in November when the Daily reported that she had been fired for stealing approximately $300,000. Prosecutors now put the number at $372,576.
Rodriguez, who is charged with pilfering $604,873, was not publicly implicated until a grand jury indicted him and Nealley on July 1.
Nealley was fired after Tufts received the anonymous tip, which yielded an audit by the university's Audit and Management Advisory Services (AMAS) Office. Administrators say that when they confronted Nealley with the results, she admitted to taking at least some money from the university.
Auditors then conducted a more thorough investigation, which fingered Rodriguez as well.
According to Nealley's lawyer, Howard Lewis, of the firm Lewis and Leeper, LLC, it was Rodriguez who submitted the tip.
Lewis said that Rodriguez is trying to pass his crimes off on Nealley because she declined to give him a promotion, but that his actions unexpectedly made him the author of his own demise.
"It's clear that Mr. Rodriguez was angry ... and because of that, he started making up allegations," Lewis told the Daily. "I would suggest that he has a deep-seated hatred for Ms. Nealley, a jealousy."
This information, Lewis said, comes in part from documents provided to him by Leone's office. Jessica Venezia, a spokesperson for Leone, declined to comment on whether her office has uncovered such proof. Rodriguez' attorney, Steven Goldwyn of the firm Altman and Altman, LLP, similarly would not comment on Lewis' accusation.
Still, Lewis would not say that his client is not responsible for any of the missing funds. "I'm not making any claim right now," he said.
Leone's office says that the embezzlement, which, in Nealley's case, began in 2001, gave the pair a taste of the good life. Nealley is alleged to have used stolen funds in locations including IKEA, Whole Foods, Omaha Steaks and Foxwoods Resort and Casino.
Rodriguez, prosecutors say, had a more luxurious appetite and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-end brands such as Gucci and Prada. He also supposedly visited cities ranging from Paris to Montreal and went to Celine Dion and Madonna concerts on Tufts' dime.
Students who worked with Nealley and Rodriguez have expressed shock at the charges. But looking back, some were able to piece together parts of the puzzle.
Michael Meucci, then a junior and the co-president of Tufts Student Resources (TSR), told the Daily in November that in the months before Nealley was fired, the group gave her additional control over its funds because she had offered to help improve money management. Nealley has since been connected to missing funds from that group, as well as from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate.
In Rodriguez' case, students remember his extravagant clothing choices and his penchant for travel.
"He definitely had a taste for the good stuff," former TCU Vice President John Valentine (LA '06) told the Daily last month. "I've walked into his office a few times, and he was talking about some of the cool places that he went. … It seemed like he was definitely enjoying himself."
Until the arraignment, many details of how the pair allegedly embezzled remained murky. Following the proceedings, Leone's office released a court document detailing the mechanisms.
The statement says that Nealley used an account called Tufts Lighting and Sound (TLS) as a front for her crimes. The account, which belonged to a defunct group, was supposed to be closed in 2005.
According to Leone's office, Nealley maintained control over it, transferring money from other accounts to TLS. She then used a TLS debit card to withdraw money and purchase personal items, the office said. These expenses allegedly amounted to $9,965.26.
She is further charged with transferring $63,500 to her personal line of credit and $91,000 to her Bank of America checking account, withdrawing $174,908 in cash from the TLS account, and writing herself $25,003.58 in checks. An additional $8,200 in cash, prosecutors say, came from the Rez, a café operated by TSR.
Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman had no comment regarding how Nealley could have had access to the TLS account after it was thought to have been closed.