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Press Release

Former Lawrence Hall Of Science Employee Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison For Embezzlement

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Ordered to Pay Restitution of Over $389,000

OAKLAND -  DeSondra Michell Ward was sentenced yesterday to 18 months in prison, and ordered to pay $389,948.57 in restitution for stealing from and defrauding the University of California, Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett.

Ward pleaded guilty on February 9, 2016, to five counts of theft from a program receiving federal funds.  According to the plea agreement, Ward admitted to stealing $389,948.57 while working at U.C. Berkeley, a public university, from 2008 through 2014.  Ward 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 to using the university’s travel systems to arrange personal air travel for herself, her family, and her friends, and also purchasing tickets which she sold to individuals for her own profit.  She also admitted that she used her university-issued procurement card for personal transactions and processed vouchers to generate payments to herself, her family, and her friends. 

The Lawrence Hall of Science’s FOSS program developed and maintains a science curriculum for elementary and middle school students.  FOSS also undertakes research projects to improve the learning and teaching of science.  Each year U.C. Berkeley receives funding and other benefits from the federal government.  In fact, 25% of the Lawrence Hall of Science’s annual budget is comprised of federal funding.

Ward, 45, formerly of Pinole, California, was charged in an information filed on November 16, 2015.  She was charged with five counts of theft from programs receiving federal funds in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(A).  The sentence was handed down by The Honorable Jeffrey S. White, U.S. District Court Judge, following Ward’s guilty pleas to all five charged counts.  Judge White also sentenced the defendant to a three-year period of supervised release and ordered her to forfeit $308,817.58.  Ward is currently out of custody on bond, but was ordered to surrender and begin serving her sentence on October 20, 2016.

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

Updated September 20, 2016

Financial Fraud