James Beckwith, Former President Of Southern Vermont College, Commits Suicide After Fraud Allegation

02/21/2013 06:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 21, 2013
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James Beckwith, former president of Southern Vermont College in Bennington, Vt., killed himself Wednesday with a self-inflicted gunshot, according to the Associated Press.

He was accused of embezzling $400,000 from the college to pay down two personal mortgages.

The Manchester Journal broke news of a civil forfeiture complaint filed against Beckwith by the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont on Wednesday. FBI offices in Rutland, Vt., and Albany, N.Y., collaborated on the investigation.

The Journal wrote:

According to the complaint and an accompanying affidavit prepared by the FBI, Beckwith embezzled $440,000 from the school between Oct. 2012 and Jan. 2013. Officials said he allegedly did so by fraudulently inducing college officials to issue three checks -- for $100,000, $160,000 and $180,000 -- to Merrill Lynch.

He allegedly provided false information that tied the missing funds to a dormitory construction project that fell through, according to the newspaper.

The AP reports Beckwith had been accused of depositing $260,000 into his personal account to pay down two mortgages on his South Londonderry home. The Manchester Journal clarified that no criminal charges apart from the civil complaint had been filed.

Beckwith was the college's acting president between January 2012 and last month, while President Karen Gross served as a senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, according to Southern Vermont College's website. Gross' return had been announced in late January, but the AP reports that Beckwith resigned on Feb. 3 when the college questioned him about the checks. An affidavit obtained by the Bennington Banner says the college then contacted the FBI on Feb. 8.

A Bennington Banner article from Feb. 8, 2012, reported that Beckwith, the school's COO and CFO, took over the president's duties somewhat reluctantly. "This has never been an office I've coveted. This has never been an office I've wanted," he told the paper. The article also identified him as the former managing partner for the New York office of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen. He headed the now-defunct firm's financial and taxation department.

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