DeSondra Ward, a UC Berkeley employee who pleaded guilty in February to embezzling more than $300,000 from the Lawrence Hall of Science, was sentenced to 18 months in jail Tuesday.
Ward pleaded guilty to all five charges against her, which included stealing from a program that receives federal funds. As part of her sentence, she must pay back the $389,948 she stole from UC Berkeley as well as a $500 fine for her crimes.
“It’s challenging a lot of times to get restitution from people who commit criminal acts, so it’s unsure if and when we’ll see that money,” said UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode.
While in prison, Ward will be held responsible for repaying her debts through the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program — a federal program that helps inmates meet their financial obligations. She will be able to work in the prison, where part of her earnings will automatically be remitted to the program and used to pay back the campus.
The UCPD was first informed of Ward’s misconduct when a coworker noticed some documents seemed “inappropriate.” According to DeCoulode, fraud is normally discovered when someone reports suspicious activity.
UCPD reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office because of the amount of money that was stolen as well as the period of time during which the fraud took place. According to the court evidence, she was stealing from at least 2008 to 2014, which spanned nearly her entire employment on campus — she was employed by UC Berkeley from June 2007 until December 2014.
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the funds were stolen entirely from the Full Option Science System program, which is a K-8 research-based science curriculum used by several schools. The campus conducted an internal review of the FOSS program and found several areas that needed improvement to prevent future fraud.
The improvements were applied not only to the FOSS program, but also to all operations conducted within the Lawrence Hall of Science.
Ward’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.