Former Missouri State University bookstore director Mark Brixey pleaded guilty this morning to embezzling more than $1.1 million from the university.
Brixey, 48, of Ozark, Mo., was charged in U.S. District Court on Tuesday morning and pleaded guilty to charges of theft, money laundering and filing a false income tax return. He waived his right to a trial and now awaits sentencing.
Brixey admitted to stealing $1,163,237.39 from MSU by “pocketing money from the university textbook buy-back program,” U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson said in a press conference at Hammons Tower on Tuesday afternoon.
Brixey engaged in a “10-year long scheme of deceit and theft,” she said, using funds meant for the university for his personal benefit beginning in 2003 with a theft of $28,946 and escalating each year. Brixey made his final theft in 2012 of $20,580.96 just before his resignation in August, according to court documents.
“He repeatedly abused his position and exploited the weaknesses of the university’s accounting system in stealing $1.1 million,” Dickinson said.
Brixey’s scheme involved cashing checks made out to the university from Follet Educational Services at the MSU Bursar’s Office, according to court documents.
At the end of each semester, students can sell their textbooks to Follet Educational Services through the MSU Bookstore, which in turn paid a commission to MSU based on those sales. Follet wrote checks to Brixey, who then cashed them at the MSU Bursar’s Office.
Brixey told Bursar’s Office workers that he needed the cash for student book buy-backs, Dickinson said.
Brixey would then deposit the money “little-by-little to avoid detection” into his personal credit union account at Educational Community Credit Union, Dickinson said.
“Brixey admitted today, in federal court, that all of that cash was actually used for his own personal benefit,” she said.
The theft escalated each year “maxing out in 2010 and 2011 with over $190,000” and another theft of $20,000 before his resignation in 2012, Dickinson said.
The federal government was able to recover $144,000 of the stolen funds in the form of certificates of deposit that Brixey had purchased, Dickinson said.
Brixey resigned from the university in August after auditors discovered more than $500,000 missing and found $81,000 in cash in Brixey’s desk at the bookstore.
MSU President Clif Smart gave a press conference in August announcing that Brixey had resigned and that the university suspected him of embezzling funds from MSU.
The university was prohibited from releasing more information, including the results of the audit, which had detected the stolen funds originally, until Tuesday because it was told it would compromise the investigation, Smart said at Tuesday’s press conference.
“On one hand, I regret not being able to fully disclose all of the details earlier,” he said. “However, in this instance, advancing the criminal investigation was the primary goal, and we were able to accomplish that.”
MSU cooperated fully in the investigation, which involved the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Springfield Police Department and the Greene County prosecuting attorney.
The university has also filed an employee theft insurance claim, Smart said.
“We are confident we will be able to recover the funds that were missing through the insurance claim and through restitution,” he said, explaining that MSU has an employee theft coverage of $1 million.
The university has also taken corrective actions to prevent future thefts from the university bookstore by employees, Smart said, including segregating duties of the manager, the textbook manager and the operating manager, which were formerly all done by Brixey.
Further steps include a daily review of the bookstore’s daily report by the university’s Financial Services Division, a change in policy at the Bursar’s Office so checks made out to the university cannot be cashed, and formalizing of all contracts with university bookstore, Smart said.
As part of his plea agreement, Brixey will not be charged with any additional charges and neither will his wife, also an employee at the university, according to court documents.
Brixey could face up to 43 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine and an order of restitution. He also must forfeit to the government $1,163,237, the total proceeds of the wire fraud scheme.
Brixey is currently out on bond and is awaiting sentencing. A hearing will be scheduled after the U.S. Probation Office completes an investigation.