Rogue uni IT director pleads guilty after fraudulently buying $2.1M of tech

Two decades in the clink would be quite an education

A now-former IT director has pleaded guilty to defrauding the university at which he was employed – and a computer equipment supplier – for $2.1 million over five years.

Ronald Simpson, 54, of St Peters, Missouri, pleaded guilty in a US federal court in St Louis to one felony count of wire fraud.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in September, and faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

While the court documents don't name the school where Simpson worked, Webster University confirmed to The Register it is the institution in question, and that Simpson previously served as its IT director. The school fired Simpson in September 2023 when school administrators learned about the theft.

"While we are not able to comment on this ongoing law enforcement proceeding, the crimes for which Mr Simpson has admitted guilt represent intentional deception and deliberate violations of numerous policies and procedures that he was required to follow," a university spokesperson explained in a statement to The Register.

"We look forward to seeing this matter addressed through the justice system," the statement continued.

As part of his job, Simpson was responsible for repairing and replacing defective IT equipment. Webster University regularly purchased computer gear from an outfit called CSI, which court papers describe as "a company that manufactures, sells, and supports computer networking equipment on a global scale."

Under the arrangement between CSI and the school, the computer kit maker would send the university replacement products if two conditions were met: Webster Uni had to "truthfully represent" that its existing equipment was defective; and the university had to "truthfully promise" to return defective kit to CSI.

Beginning in late November 2018, and continuing through December 2023, Simpson hatched a plan to rip off both organizations while lining his own pockets, we're told.

During his tenure as director of IT, Simpson submitted requests to Webster University officials to buy "hundreds" of pieces of equipment, and in each of these he falsely claimed the items would be used at university locations.

Simpson then used the school's money to purchase the computer gear – but instead of installing it for his employer, he sold the kit to a third-party vendor without the proper approval. The third party then wired money to Simpson's personal bank accounts.

"In total, the university spent at least one million dollars on IT equipment based on the defendant's material misrepresentation that the defendant's requested IT equipment would be used or installed at university locations," according to prosecution documents [PDF].

"Instead of using or installing the IT equipment at university locations, the defendant sold the IT equipment to enrich himself."

Simpson also "fraudulently obtained" 56 products from CSI, which he then sold and profited from, by falsely claiming that the university's IT gear was defective, according to his plea agreement [PDF].

CSI sent Simpson $780,233 worth of replacement products based on his lies, and the third-party vendor wired him about $2.1 million for the equipment he stole from the school and CSI.

The FBI investigated the case. ®

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