2 Tampa Residents Convicted of Embezzling Over $835K From Unnamed Higher Education Institution


A federal grand jury has returned a verdict of guilt against two Tampa residents, Andrea Mitchell and Lester Best, for their involvement in embezzling over $835,000 from an undisclosed higher education institution, as reported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

(Photo : PEXELS / Markus Winkler)

Mitchell, aged 54, and Best, aged 53, were indicted in December 2022 and were convicted on Monday of conspiring to commit wire fraud, along with 22 counts of wire fraud. Additionally, Mitchell was found guilty of two counts of aggravated identity theft. Both individuals face a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for each conspiracy and fraud charge. Mitchell could receive an additional mandatory consecutive sentence of two years for the aggravated identity theft charges.

Modus Operandi

Andrea Mitchell held the position of financial services manager at the higher education institution situated in the Middle District of Florida. Utilizing her authority, Mitchell, alongside Best and other accomplices, orchestrated a scheme to siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars from the institution.

By exploiting her access to student sponsorship accounts, Mitchell pilfered the identities of current and former students, subsequently accessing their accounts using their student identification numbers. She identified refunds issued to a tuition management business or college savings program on behalf of these students and fabricated entries to create false balances in their sponsorship accounts.

Utilizing these fictitious balances, Mitchell engineered fraudulent checks and induced the higher education institution to issue them under the names of her co-conspirators, recruited by Best. These individuals, who were not affiliated with the institution as students, proceeded to cash or deposit the counterfeit checks at various financial institutions, subsequently sharing the illicit proceeds among themselves.

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Prosecution and Investigation

The case was meticulously investigated by the Tampa Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Secret Service. Assistant United States Attorney Candace Garcia Rich is spearheading the prosecution efforts against Mitchell and Best.

As legal proceedings continue, the revelation of this embezzlement scheme underscores the necessity for stringent oversight and accountability measures within educational institutions to safeguard against financial malfeasance and protect the interests of students and stakeholders alike.

While the guilty verdict marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice, the sentencing phase remains pending. The court is yet to determine the appropriate penalties to be imposed on Mitchell and Best for their illicit actions.

Given the magnitude of the embezzled funds and the severity of the charges, it is anticipated that the court will deliberate carefully on the appropriate sentences, taking into account factors such as the defendants' level of culpability, any mitigating circumstances, and the need for deterrence to prevent similar offenses in the future.

Additionally, the aftermath of the trial may prompt a reevaluation of existing financial protocols and internal controls within educational institutions nationwide. Heightened vigilance and enhanced safeguards may be implemented to fortify against potential vulnerabilities and minimize the risk of similar fraudulent activities occurring in the future.

Impact on the Educational Institution

The revelation of embezzlement totaling over $835,000 represents a significant blow to the affected higher education institution. Beyond the financial losses incurred, the breach of trust and violation of ethical standards by individuals in positions of authority have tarnished the institution's reputation and eroded confidence among students, faculty, and stakeholders.

In the aftermath of this scandal, the institution may face heightened scrutiny from regulatory bodies and accrediting agencies, necessitating comprehensive reforms and remedial measures to restore integrity and regain trust within the educational community.

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