Accused former Vt. college president kills self

Topics: From the Wires,

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The former acting president of a small Vermont liberal arts college killed himself amid an investigation into the embezzlement of $440,000 in school funds, state police said Thursday.

Former acting Southern Vermont College President James Beckwith died Wednesday in his Londonderry home of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

Beckwith was accused of taking the money between October 2012 and January while serving as acting president of the small liberal arts school in Bennington. Authorities said he deposited the money into his personal account, using $260,000 to pay down two mortgages.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said earlier Thursday it filed a complaint alleging the home and account are forfeitable as proceeds of mail fraud and as property involved in money laundering.

Prosecutors said Beckwith, 58, had college officials issue three checks to Merrill Lynch, saying they were to settle legal claims arising from a failed dormitory project. But the checks for $100,000, $160,000 and $180,000 were deposited into a personal account Beckwith had with Merrill Lynch, prosecutors said.

A recent audit of the college’s finances for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2012, found several suspicious financial transactions involving purported vendor payments by Beckwith, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

When questioned about the matter, Beckwith resigned on Feb. 3. The $180,000 from the third check remains in the Merrill Lynch account.

The college sent an email to faculty and students saying it was saddened by Beckwith’s unexpected death, said school president Karen Gross.

“This is a difficult and sad time for all of us who knew Jim. His many contributions to our community will be remembered,” said Gross wrote.

The college met with faculty on Thursday and planned to meet with students Thursday night to discuss the unexpected death and the civil complained filed by the U.S. government.

Beckwith had been chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the college since 2007. He served as acting president while Gross was on one-year leave.

The college has about 550 students.

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