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Press Release

Federal Jury Finds Conspirators Guilty Of Embezzling Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Higher Education Institution

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Florida

Tampa, Florida – United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that a federal jury has found Andrea Mitchell (54, Tampa) and Lester Best (53, Tampa) guilty of conspiring to commit wire fraud and 22 substantive counts of wire fraud. Mitchell was also found guilty of two counts of aggravated identity theft. Mitchell and Best each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on each of the conspiracy and fraud counts. Mitchell faces an additional 2-year mandatory consecutive sentence on the aggravated identity theft counts. A sentencing date has not yet been set. Mitchell and Best were indicted in December 2022.

According to testimony and evidence presented at trial, Mitchell served as a financial services manager at a higher education institution in the Middle District of Florida. Mitchell, Best, and their coconspirators used her position to embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars from the institution. Mitchell stole the identities of current and former students at the higher education institution and then used their student identification numbers to access their student sponsorship accounts. Mitchell identified refunds in these accounts made by the higher education institution to a tuition management business and/or a college savings program on behalf of the students and, thereby, located entries reflecting illusory balances in the students’ sponsorship accounts. Mitchell used the illusory balances to create the appearance of funds to back fraudulent checks. She then caused the higher education institution to issue the checks in the names of multiple coconspirators who had been recruited by Best to negotiate the bogus checks. None of these coconspirators were students at the higher education institution. The coconspirators cashed or deposited the fraudulent checks at various financial institutions and then shared the proceeds. As a result, the higher education institution lost more than $835,000.

This case was investigated by the Tampa Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Secret Service. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Candace Garcia Rich.

Updated March 4, 2024

Financial Fraud
Identity Theft