Former employee admits to using credit-card scheme to steal from university

Gayle Janis Schmidt, a former employee at the University of St. Thomas Center for Business Excellence, pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday to embezzling more than $120,000 from the university.

Schmidt, 61, was charged Nov. 17 and on Dec. 8 pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer. She entered the plea before U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum in Minneapolis.

A St. Thomas employee since 1990, Schmidt admitted that over a seven-year period, from 2000 to 2007, she embezzled $122,000 by using the university Internet-based credit-card processing system to transfer funds from St. Thomas accounts to her personal credit cards.

As part of her job, Schmidt processed payments received from people who enrolled in courses and programs offered by the Center for Business Excellence. She admitted to making 120 transfers to her personal accounts over the seven years, including one for $1,895.

The case has been in the works since the spring of 2007. University officials discovered the theft, conducted an internal investigation, and turned over the documentation to authorities, said Mark Vangsgard, vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer for St. Thomas.

"We consider this a serious crime," he said, adding that since discovering the theft St. Thomas has reviewed and modified its credit-card processing systems.

If convicted, according the Star Tribune newspaper, Schmidt faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for wire fraud and five years for unauthorized access to a protected computer.