BUFFALO, NY - Former University at Buffalo Vice President Dennis Black, who abruptly resigned last summer pleaded guilty to stealing money from the university and using it for his personal benefit. Black used more than $300,000 for "for vacations, he used it for memberships to social clubs, he used it for his son's bachelor party," among other things said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.
Black, the former Vice President of University Life Services, appeared in State Supreme Court Thursday morning before Justice John L. Michalski. He pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, both felonies.
As part of the plea agreement, Black will pay restitution of $320,000 to UB and $22,238 to the state for taxes. "He made charitable contributions with the money that he took from UB and then he had the audacity to claim on his personal income tax the charitable contribution that he took, so he could get a tax benefit from it," said the district attorney.
Black was able to steal, according to the State Inspector General, because he had close ties to an account administered and funded by the Faculty Student Association (“FSA”), a not-for-profit corporation that operates the food services and book stores at SUNY Buffalo. "He embarrassed the entire UB community and this whole town by what he did," said Flynn.
A red flag went up when someone at UB noticed Black taking a lot of trips but not filling out proper travel vouchers. An internal audit was conducted and irregularities were found.
Here's a list of how Dennis Black was spending university money for personal gain.
• New York Yankees tickets
• Tickets to a James Taylor concert, a Liza Minnelli concert and Broadway shows
• Nearly $11,500 for University Life Services staff parties at Buffalo Bison’s Field
• Travel with his wife to Salt Lake City for their son’s wedding, and personal travel to Denver, Florida, Washington D.C., Colorado Springs and Chicago, including airfare, lodging and meals.
• A total of $34,000 for personal dues and fees for the Buffalo Saturn Club, a social club.
• More than $3,300 for tickets to and in support of a performing Arts festival in Charleston, South Carolina, where he had a second home.
Black also used stolen funds for charitable contributions in his own name, and in some instances took corresponding tax deductions to which he was not entitled. His improper charitable spending included:
• Using at least $75,000 in stolen State funds between 2008-2016 to support the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), of which he was a former board member. His spending included more than $18,000 for tickets and dinners for himself and others, $5,000 for video and recording services and more than $15,000 in pledges in the name of himself and his wife
• Using nearly $13,500 in stolen funds in 2013 for event tickets and campaign support when he chaired the United Way campaign
• Donating stolen funds to support the “Barksgiving” campaign in Buffalo, a Thanksgiving event for dogs and their owners, as well as for contributions to the American Heart Association and the Christ the King Seminary
When 2 On Your Side's Claudine Ewing asked the DA what kind of punishment he wants for Black, he said 'he needs to go to jail, I'm recommending jail."
"Mr. Black was one of the highest paid public employees in WNY making almost $300,000 and the he took $300,000 from the university, money out of every parents pocket who sends their kid to UB," said a frustrated DA.
Black, 61, now lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
Andrea Costantino, 48, is the former Director of Campus Living. She pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a felony and will pay $14,000 restitution to New York State. Here's what investigators uncovered on her theft.
•Using more than $4,200 in state funds to purchase a treadmill for her home, which she charged the equipment to her State credit card
•Using her State credit card to charge airfare and four nights in a Kissimmee, Florida condominium, asserting it was for a college conference when no such conference was held during her trip
Black will be sentenced in January 10, 2018. Constantino will be sentenced December 6.
Black's attorney Brian Mahoney would not say why his client stole. "Mr. Black remains hopeful that his 42 years of community service on behalf of the university will not be overshadowed by this err in judgment. He is committed to making full restitution for any expenses that were not within the scope of his employment or in the furtherance of university goals."
The former UB Director of Campus Living, Andrea Costantino also appeared in State Supreme Court Thursday morning and pleaded guilty to 3rd degree Grand Larceny.
Costantino will pay $14,664 in restitution.
University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi released a statement about the guilty. Below is a portion of the statement.
This matter stems from a university audit conducted by UB’s Office of Internal Audit in April 2016. This audit was conducted at my direction due to concerns of financial mismanagement in the former University Life and Services organization.
The UB audit uncovered a pattern of financial abuse, including the misappropriation of state funds in the former University Life and Services organization and the Faculty-Student Association. (The Faculty-Student Association is a separate, private, not-for-profit corporation affiliated with UB.)
In July 2016, I, in consultation with the Office of General Counsel for SUNY, directed UB’s Office of Internal Audit to refer this matter to the New York State Office of the Inspector General. Concurrently, this matter was referred to the SUNY Fraud Committee.
In July 2016, the Office of the Inspector General assumed responsibility for this investigation. Throughout the investigation, UB cooperated fully with the Office of the Inspector General, and UB will cooperate fully with the Office of the District Attorney.As soon as we uncovered the financial abuse, the University at Buffalo took swift and appropriate measures to tighten financial controls, including assigning authority for all financial decisions and transactions to the Vice President for Finance and Administration.
The UB Faculty Student Association also released a statement.
For more than 50 years, the independent, non-profit Faculty Student Association has provided superior food and auxiliary services to the University at Buffalo. Consistent with SUNY guidelines and at the request of current and past UB administrations, UBFSA annually transferred a portion of its revenues to UB for the university’s broader use, in light of diminishing state government support to UB. In particular, these funds helped defray expenditures in the operations of the university. UBFSA was surprised to learn that, despite a system of checks and balances, UB and UBFSA became victims of two former UB employees’ diversion of some of those transferred funds, resulting in a financial loss to UB.
As a result, and after careful consideration, review, and full cooperation with UB, SUNY, state and Erie County officials, the UBFSA board and UB leadership implemented several significant financial accountability initiatives. These go above and beyond what SUNY and state regulators require of campus auxiliary organizations.”
First, a number of outside, independent directors joined the UBFSA’s governing board and helped staff a newly created audit committee; second, the board hired a new outside auditor that is performing an internal controls review and a top-to-bottom financial analysis; third, all revenues transferred from the UBFSA to UB are now verified to be in accounts overseen solely by the UB Office of Finance and Administration; and, fourth, the UBFSA’s board now includes seven UB administrative officers, including the UB controller.”UBFSA and its employees are proud of the work they do, and the services they provide to UB and its students, faculty and staff. Their work will continue as UBFSA fulfills its mission to provide the highest-quality services to the UB community.”