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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 11, 2016

Former Lawrence Hall Of Science Employee Pleads Guilty To Theft And Fraud

Defendant Admits Stealing Over $389,000

OAKLAND -  DeSondra Michell Ward pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing from and defrauding the University of California, Berkeley, announced Acting United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson. In the plea agreement filed late yesterday, Ward admitted she stole $389,948.57 while working at U.C. Berkeley from 2008 through 2014. 

Ward, 44, formerly from Pinole, Calif., worked at U.C. Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, first as an administrative assistant with the Full Option Science System (“FOSS”) program and later as a financial analyst with budget and finance responsibilities over FOSS.  Ward admitted she used the university’s travel systems to arrange personal air travel for herself, her family, and her friends.  She also admitted she purchased tickets that she sold to individuals for her own benefit.  In addition, she used her university-issued procurement card for personal transactions and processed vouchers to generate payments to herself, her family, and her friends.  In an information filed November 16, 2015, Ward was charged with five counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A). About one quarter of the Lawrence Hall of Science’s annual budget is comprised of federal funding.  Under the plea agreement, Ward pleaded guilty to all five counts.  Ward also agreed to pay restitution and forfeiture pursuant to the agreement.

Ward is currently on release on bond.   

Ward’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 21, 2016, at 1:00 p.m. before the Honorable Jeffrey S. White, U.S. District Court Judge, in Oakland.  The maximum statutory penalty for each count in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A) is 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense.  In addition, forfeiture, restitution and additional terms of supervised release may be imposed.  However, any sentence will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew S. Huang is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Vanessa Quant and Stephanie Mitchell.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI, with significant assistance from the University of California Police Department and U.C. Berkeley’s Audit and Advisory Services.

Updated February 11, 2016