Former AAVMC staffer pleads guilty to $500,000 theft

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Washington-The former Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) accountant accused of embezzling half a million dollars from the organization pleaded guilty last month to bank fraud, a federal crime, in a deal for a lighter sentence.

Washington-The former Association of American Veterinary MedicalColleges (AAVMC) accountant accused of embezzling half a million dollarsfrom the organization pleaded guilty last month to bank fraud, a federalcrime, in a deal for a lighter sentence.

Mohamed Ashour, 39, a Canadian citizen from the Toronto area, appearedJan. 17 in U.S. District Court in Washington. In exchange for his confession,the U.S. Attorney's Office has recommended he serve two years in prison,three years probation and pay retribution to AAVMC.

Without the deal, Ashour faces a maximum 30 years in prison and $1 million-dollarfine, U.S. assistant attorney Thomas Zeno tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Caught on the run

Since Ashour's termination as AAVMC chief financial officer in February2001, authorities say the suspect has been on the run.

The search ended in December when police recognized Ashour on a Washingtonstreet. Considered a flight risk, he's being held without bail in a localjail until sentencing.

Meanwhile, details of the case have been made public. According to aFBI affidavit, AAVMC officials began suspecting corruption in January 2001,when the organization's accountants alerted then Executive Director Dr.Curt Mann to inconsistencies within the financial records Ashour was responsiblefor keeping.

Ashour did not have check-writing privileges, but he was responsiblefor receiving dues checks, making group deposits and balancing bank statements.

The crime unravels

Officials began to take notice when a review of Ashour's records showeda $20,000 unauthorized withdrawal from an AAVMC account. Ashour claimedMann gave the go-ahead to cover payroll expenses, but it was later determinedthat the bookkeeper forged Mann's signature, and on Feb. 22, 2001, he wasterminated.

A search of Ashour's office revealed many large bank withdrawals, thousandsof dollars in corporate credit card debt in the names of former AAVMC employeesand association checks payable to Ashour's girlfriend and himself.

Even after his termination, Ashour successfully negotiated a number ofchecks totaling almost $16,000, drawn from a closed AAVMC account by forgingMann's signature. Tracking his activities, the FBI reports Ashour openeda number of bank accounts, deposited phony AAVMC checks and drew on thosechecks until last September.

Back on track

Since the scam unfolded, AAVMC has regrouped under Dr. Lester Crawford,who served as executive director prior to Mann's appointment and assumedthe top spot again when he resigned "due to the upheaval and financialstress," Mann told DVM Newsmagazine in June.

The financial loss could have bankrupted the not-for-profit group, Crawfordsays, if it hadn't been for the generosity of its 62 members and cuttingback to "the bare bone" on expenditures.

"We actually have a surplus again, and it took nine months to dothat," he says. "We reduced staff from 15 to four plus some temporaries.I was never serving more than half time so that was a big saving, and allthe member institutions pitched in and provided some personnel and technicalhelp."

Turning the page

But as AAVMC regains fiscal health, the veterinarian rumored to be acceptinga high-end U.S. Food and Drug Administration appointment says he's steppingdown as the organization's chief.

"I was brought in just for this case and I'll be leaving AAVMC Feb.1," Crawford said in January. "I don't know who will take my seat,but we've made sure the financial controls have been put in place to besure that nothing like this will happen to AAVMC in the future."

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