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AP News

Dead Vt. college official target in $440,000 theft

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A former college official found dead in his home had embezzled more than $400,000 over the last few months, prosecutors say.

James Beckwith, former acting president of Southern Vermont College, was found dead Wednesday of injuries consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said Thursday, a day after federal prosecutors filed a civil complaint concerning $440,000 he was accused of taking from the small liberal arts college in Bennington. An autopsy is planned.

Beckwith was accused of taking the money between October 2012 and January. Authorities said he deposited the money into a personal account, using $260,000 to pay down two mortgages.

The complaint from the U.S. attorney's office filed Wednesday alleges a South Londonderry home and account are forfeitable as proceeds of mail fraud and as property involved in money laundering.

Civil complaints are filed when prosecutors are concerned about assets being dissipated, U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said. Beckwith had not been criminally charged and did not have any apparent criminal record.

The college sent an email to faculty, students and staff on Thursday saying it was saddened by Beckwith's unexpected death, president Karen Gross said.

"This is a difficult and sad time for all of us who knew Jim," Gross wrote. "His many contributions to our community will be remembered."

The college met with faculty and planned to meet with students to discuss the death and the civil complaint filed by federal authorities.

Prosecutors said Beckwith, 58, had college officials issue three checks to Merrill Lynch, saying they were to settle legal claims arising from a failed dormitory project. But the checks, for $100,000, $160,000 and $180,000, were deposited into a personal account, prosecutors said.

A recent audit of the college's finances for the fiscal year ending last June 30 found several suspicious financial transactions involving purported vendor payments by Beckwith, the U.S. attorney's office said.

Beckwith had been chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the college since 2007. He served as acting president while Gross was on a one-year leave as a senior policy adviser to the U.S. Department of Education.

When questioned about the matter, Beckwith resigned on Feb. 3, according to the complaint.

Police found his body Wednesday evening after someone called to report that he was possibly missing.

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