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UND secretary charged with theft

by Chris Hennen | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | News | April 22nd, 2015

Illustration by Megan Redfield

Woman alleged to have forged travel vouchers and overtime hours

A former University of North Dakota administrative secretary is facing felony theft charges for allegedly falsifying 31 travel vouchers, submitting 152 trips for reimbursement totaling over $47,000 and 397 false overtime hours totaling over $10,000.

Lori Pesch, East Grand Forks, has a preliminary hearing May 1 in Grand Forks County District Court, where her attorney Alexander Reichert says she will enter a plea of guilty. Reichert says his client committed the crimes out of necessity after family tragedy.

The offenses are alleged to have occurred between March 1, 2012, and September 15, 2014. They were found through a UND audit report that showed Pesch received payment for travel and overtime that did not occur by forging her boss’ name. Pesch was put on administrative leave in September of 2014 and no longer works at UND. She worked in the Special Education section of the Department of Teaching and Learning at UND’s College of Learning and Human Development.

Reichert told HPR he is working on a plea deal for Pesch and hopes to avoid a punishment of jail time by allowing for restitution of the money she stole.

“She will be pleading guilty to these charges. She is accepting responsibility for what happened. There are some disputes as to the amounts and what is proper and what was not proper. But there were items that were improper and she will be pleading guilty to those,“ Reichert said.

The overtime pay was justified but Pesch will admit to stealing the majority of the travel dollars, Reichert said. He explained his client did so after she saw no other way to provide for her family as a single parent.

“She was faced with an unbelievably difficult period in her life where her husband had just died of cancer and she was left with a young family and very little opportunity to support herself in an unbelievably tragic and financially difficult situation,” Reichert replied.

Pesch’s husband Tim died in December 2009 unexpectedly at the age of 52. Reichert said there were attempts to help out Pesch’s financial hardship at the workplace but they never worked out.

“She and the Department tried many times to get her a raise. She worked extremely hard and always gave 110 percent to the University,” Reichert said. “No one has ever doubted that and they never gave her the raises. There were discussions of how they could get her more money. Eventually she took a path that she shouldn’t have and that was she falsified travel documents in order to get more money. But she’s not blaming anyone else for this. It’s her fault and she feels terrible for it. But it came from a place where few people can imagine the sort of tragedy that she went through.”

Sources who alerted HPR to this story raised questions about who was held responsible for this theft to happen for so long at UND, a public university funded by state tax dollars. We had many questions for university officials about this case and how it was handled. However, UND spokesman David Dodds declined to comment.

This story comes at a tenuous time for UND leadership with university president Robert Kelley facing a no confidence vote at press time from the UND Student Senate in a dispute over a proposal to increase tuition.

HPR will continue to seek answers in the coming weeks to questions about how UND handled the matter, how no one in budget authority saw this happening, how it sought to make sure this never happens again and if anyone was punished over the matter besides Pesch.

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