Virginia Wesleyan College Gave Convicted Embezzler Full Access to Student and Alumni Records

By Michael Klazema on 4/15/2015

Virginia Wesleyan College reportedly never ran a background check on an employee who turned out to be a convicted felon with a history of embezzlement charges. Even without the background check, the employee in question was given "unrestricted access" to the school's database, which included records for Virginia Wesleyan's more than 380,000 students and alumni. The woman used her position to steal the identities of numerous students and to apply for "more than 100 credit cards." All of this took place in 2012, but the court case is only just now reaching the sentencing phase.

Normally, college or university officers with access into student records would never be cleared to work such jobs without first passing a background check. According to a report from The Virginian-Pilot, though, Virginia Wesleyan has a loophole in their system that allowed this particular incident to take place. The school doesn't run background checks on employees hired through the student work-study program, and since the woman who committed the theft was a work-study student she was never asked to submit to a check. Spokespeople for the Virginia Wesleyan said that it isn't standard operating procedure, either at other schools in the local area or statewide, for work-study student employees to undergo background checks. In fact, it's rare for any kind of student employees, such as resident assistants, to go through full background checks prior to hiring.

The defendant in this case was a student of Virginia Wesleyan from 2010 through August 2012, when she was caught and charged with identity theft. The school was not aware that the young woman had two embezzlement charges on her record, one a 2008 conviction for misdemeanor embezzlement, and one an April 2009 conviction for felony embezzlement. As a result, she was given access to the school database, which, out of 380,000 records, contained around 59,000 Social Security numbers. In other words, she had nearly limitless resources to fuel her identity theft habits.

There was also a warrant out for the defendant's arrest, as she had been sentenced to two months in jail for her 2009 felony conviction. She was supposed to report to the jail on her own, but never did, and a warrant was issued for her arrest in July 2009 as a result. She wasn't arrested for the initial felony charge until 2013, and will now likely face at least two more years in prison as a United States District Court case against her wraps up.

Since the incident, Virginia Wesleyan has tightened its security policies slightly, and is keeping an eye on who has access to different student records. A better practice for colleges and universities across the country might be to implement background checks for student workers. They may not be the norm, but a consistent background check policy for any kind of worker, including for student workers, would help protect student records and school funds or assets, and would prepare students for real world jobs, where background checks are more common.


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