Lee Confesses to Stealing $120K

Eliot Alum Sent to Prison for One Year for 'Evening With Champions' Thefts

Charles K. Lee '93 was sentenced to a year in prison yesterday after admitting he stole almost $120,000 which he helped raise for a children's cancer charity while running an Eliot House ice skating show.

Lee, who reversed a not guilty plea he entered last August, was sentenced to a 4-5 years in jail, including one year he will be expected to serve.

The recent alum was also placed on three to 10 years probation and will be required to perform community service and make full restitution for the money he stole.

An Evening With Champions is an Eliot House-organized ice skating exhibition benefiting the Jimmy Fund, which finances children's cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Jimmy Fund officials said yesterday that they believed justice was served by Lee's sentence.

"The resolution of this case, which includes a commitment to restore funds intended for cancer research and patient care, is fair and appropriate," said Mike Andrews, executive director of the Jimmy Fund, in a statement yesterday. "It sends a clear signal that...misuse of philanthropic dollars will not be tolerated."

At a hearing at Middlesex District Court yesterday morning, Assistant District Attorney Martin F. Murphy said Lee used the pilfered money for his personal expenses and credit card payments.

Among the expenditures that Lee subsidized with Jimmy Fund money were telephone calls, travel, stereo equipment and clothing from stores such as The Andover Shop and Eddie Bauer, Murphy said.

Lee held check-signing power for the Eliot House Jimmy Fund accounts from March 1992 through June 1993.

During that time, Murphy said, Lee wrote himself 83 checks from the Eliot House accounts.

The dollar value of the checks ranged from $50 to $7862, Murphy said. Leewrote himself 33 checks for more than $1000 and 12checks for more than $4000.

According to indictment records, Lee never wentmore than 26 days without writing himself anothercheck for more than $250. He had a high of 10checks in June 1992 and a low of one check inDecember 1992, February 1993 and April 1993.

Altogether Lee embezzled $119,881.26, more thanenough to pay for the entire cost of a life-savingbone marrow transplant, a Dana-Farber spokespersonsaid.

"On many separate occasions," Murphy said,"[Lee] made a decision...that it was moreimportant that he take money for clothing orstereo equipment rather than give it to the JimmyFund."

End of the Road

The Middlesex District Attorney's Office hasbeen investigating the Lee case since the summerof 1993, when money was discovered missing.

Lee and the other organizers of 1992's AnEvening With Champions show had promised the JimmyFund a donation of more than $100,000.

To make the pledge official, they held aceremony at Eliot House where a commemorativecheck for more than $100,000 was presented toAndrews.

No real money changed hands then, but theco-chairs of the 1993 show, Jonathan S. Kolodner'94 and Kelly L. Morrison '94, were expected todeliver about $160,000 to the cancer charity whenthey took over in the summer of 1993.

But shortly after they assumed responsibility,Kolodner and Morrison discovered that the promisedmoney was gone.

The co-chairs immediately contacted Lee, whohad just graduated from Harvard.

At that time, Murphy said, Lee told them thathe had given between $75,000 and $80,000 to theJimmy Fund. But when the co-chairs double-checkedwith the Jimmy Fund, "that proved to be false,"Murphy said.

Lee then told the co-chairs that he had usedthe money to pay longstanding expenses associatedwith the Jimmy Fund, and that he had decided toforego a donation that year.

When the new co-chairs learned that statementwas also false, they had a final conversation withLee, Murphy said.

Lee told them then that the economy was bad,that the money was for the co-chairs to do with asthey saw fit and that he did not care if the JimmyFund received a dollar.

Kolodner and Morrison notified Universityofficials, who quickly turned the case over to thedistrict attorney's office.

The DA's office began an investigation focusingon Lee and former Evening With Champions TreasurerDavid G. Sword '93.

On July 20, 1994, after a year-long probe, agrand jury indicted Lee on 58 counts of larcenyover $250 and eight counts of larceny under $250.

On the day the indictment was handed down, Leeresigned from his job at Stamford, Connecticut'sCUC International. He has worked in a mail roomsince then.

Sword was indicted last summer on one count oflarceny over $250 for allegedly taking more than$12,000.

Three weeks later, the two pleaded not guiltyto all the charges.

Sword's case is still pending. He faces astatus hearing in six days.

Cool and Unemotional

Throughout yesterday's proceeding, Lee seemedrelatively cool and unemotional.

Dressed in a dark blue jacket with a blue andyellow striped tie, Lee sat on the front bench ofcourtroom 6B for about 45 minutes before theproceeding began.

Approached before the proceedings, Lee referredall questions to his attorney, James W. Lawson,who was not sitting with him.

Lee's case was the first of the day to becalled, and he approached the hip-high dividerseparating the public from the court officials andattorneys.

A court official asked the alum if he waschanging his plea on the first of his 58 larcenycounts.

"Yes," he said.

"What is your plea?"

"Guilty," he said.

Lee did not change his not guilty pleas on theother 57 counts of larceny over $250.

After Lee took the stand, Judge Regina Quinlanasked him if he understood his rights and theimplications of changing his plea.

To most of the questions, Lee looked at thejudge and responded squarely: "Yes, I understand."

After the judge questioned Lee, Murphy listedthe evidence against him.

Murphy also raised the point that there weremany victims to Lee's crime, includingticket-buyers who unwittingly funded Lee'sspending sprees, skaters who donated their timeunder the mistaken impression that they werehelping the Jimmy Fund and, finally, the childcancer patients for whom the money was intended.

Murphy acknowledged that Lee had no priorcriminal record.

Still, he noted, "he has not wanted foreconomic opportunities, he certainly has notwanted for educational opportunities."

Murphy asked the judge for a prison sentence of4-5 years, with two years to be served, as well asprobation.

Lawson then rose to defend Lee.

Appealing for a more leniency, Lawsonemphasized his client's potential and previouslyuntarnished record.

"Here is a young man who has lived in largepart an exemplary life, almost perfect, almostspotless," Lawson said. "There was a period oftime when a naive and impressionable man withoutsupervision, did something that was very, verywrong, and he is ashamed."

Lawson added that his client is remorseful.

"[His] behavior was a crime and it wasinexcusable," Lawson said. "And I say to the courtthat Charles Lee knows it."

Lawson said that Lee would be "happy" to repaythe Jimmy Fund in full, despite the fact thatrestitution would take many years.

Although his client was expecting to serve aprison sentence, Lawson asked that the court notsend him to a maximum-security prison where hemight become a hardened criminal.

"I would hope, your honor, that he not bedestroyed by the price he must pay," Lawson said.

Lawson asked for one year to serve, with "fulland complete" restitution and a period ofcommunity service to supplement the probationimposed by the court. He also asked the court tosend Lee to the Middleton House of Corrections, aminimum security prison.

Quinlan agreed to Lawson's request andrecommended that Lee be sent to Middleton.

In addition to the prison term, probation andrestitution, Quinlan also ruled that Lee perform100 hours of community service each year that heis on probation. That service should be spenteducating youths in the inner-city, Quinlan ruled.

Lee was escorted away by two large bailiffs. Hewas not handcuffed.

Reaction

Lee's plea bargain was met with sadness andanger across the University yesterday.

"We're very happy to see that this guy is goingto jail because that is where he belonged," saidUniversity Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr., whoattended the proceeding. "He stole $120,000 thatwas supposed to go to kids with cancer. Heabsolutely ought to be in jail."

University spokesperson Joe Wrinn, who alsoattended the hearing, agreed.

"We're glad that Mr. Lee was caught and isgoing to jail," Wrinn said. "I hope this isolatedincident won't overshadow the good work that hasgone on for more than 25 years at Eliot House forthe Jimmy Fund."

Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 said heis satisfied with the sentence.

"Obviously, it's a tragic situation for theyoung man involved, but it seems [fair] to me inlight of the circumstances," Jewett said in aninterview last night.

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III declined tocomment on the case, as did former CrimsonPresident Julian E. Barnes '93, who roomed withLee for his four years as an undergraduate.

A host of Eliot House figures, including Lee'sco-chair--Rachel Schulz '93--Kolodner, MasterStephen A. Mitchell and Co-master Kristine L.Forsgard did not return phone calls.

The Man Behind The Thefts

Lee's crimes are not consistent with hisextensive record of community service while atHarvard.

During his undergraduate years, Leeparticipated in the Big Brother program, filedbooks in Lamont Library and ushered at MemorialChurch, in addition to his Evening With Championsresponsibilities.

Lee was also head of his hometown church'scommunity service program for young members,Lawson said.

But friends interviewed by The Crimson over thepast several months agreed that Lee--an only childwho grew up in a middle-class home in Tenafly, NewJersey--enjoyed the finer things in life.

In particular, Lee longed to live up to theEliot House image of old money and lavishspending, friends said.

"He wanted to epitomize Eliot House," said onefriend who lived in the dorm.

In an interview last summer, former roommateBarnes agreed that Lee "did kind of live a stylishlife."

In his junior year, Lee's spending habitschanged dramatically, Eliot residents have said.

Friends said Lee had attributed the increasedextravagance to an inheritance from a relative inKorea.

Safety Checks

To ensure that future Evening With Championsofficials do not repeat Lee's crimes, theUniversity has implemented a number of controls onthe program.

According to University Attorney Anne Taylor,the program's record-keeping system has beenimproved.

"Records from the period of time when [Lee andSword] were running it didn't exist" when theUniversity investigated, Taylor said after theindictments were handed down. "We had an auditorcome in who made a number of recommendations."

In addition, Taylor said, an advisory committeewas formed.

The committee, comprised of Jewett and otherofficials, periodically reviews the benefit'sfinancial records and receives reports, Taylorsaid.

Finally, the University now requiresdouble-signing for large checks, Taylor said.

Even with the added bureaucracy of the newcontrols and the negative publicity of thescandal, An Evening With Champions still managedto do well in 1994.

In fact, the 25th anniversary show raised arecord-breaking $164,000--all of which wasofficially turned ove