A former high-ranking administrator was sentenced Friday to 20 months in federal prison, after admitting last August that she had carried out a widespread campaign of fraud at the Medical Center that cost the university over half a million dollars.

Adriana Santamaria, who served as the top accounting official at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology from 1989 to 2002, was also ordered to repay to Georgetown almost $600,000 in lost funds. Although Santamaria directly removed only $350,000 from university accounts, indirect overhead costs associated with her theft of federal grant funds forced Georgetown to repay over $500,000 to the National Institutes of Health.

U.S. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy also sentenced Maria Cabrales, Santamaria’s sister, to 15 months in prison for her role in the theft. Kennedy ordered Cabrales to share responsibility for $350,000 of Santamaria’s restitution to the university and recommended that both defendants serve their terms at a minimum-security prison in Alderson, W.Va.

Santamaria and Cabrales had each faced up to 10 years in prison, and the sentences they received Friday were part of an agreement reached by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case. Both defendants were ordered to surrender themselves to custody by March 1.

“I apologize to the government as well as Georgetown,” Santamaria said in a brief statement during her sentencing hearing. “As I said before, this was a bad decision on my part, I’m human, and this will not happen again. . I can’t give you an explanation, I just want to get this part of my life over.”

Friday’s sentencing concluded one of the largest and longest-running law enforcement investigations in university history. Administrators’ 2003 discovery that Santamaria had secretly siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars from Georgetown accounts spurred questions about the university’s financial oversight mechanisms and preceded a series of reforms designed to increase officials’ accountability.

Court documents stemming from Santamaria’s August guilty plea revealed an extensive and complex system of illegal activity in her office, ranging from the payment of honoraria to relatives who never set foot on campus, to the hiring of family members for part-time work never performed.

Prosecutors said that Cabrales aided Santamaria’s theft by using her bank accounts to funnel funds from the university in exchange for a significant fraction of the stolen money.

“It was an intricate scheme over a number of years,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Zeno, the lead prosecutor in the case, said during the hearing. “It’s serious, and she should be punished.”

Kennedy asked the defendants about their motives and questioned whether they understood the severity of their crimes during the court session.

“I wonder if you appreciate that your conduct was more than simply an error, a mistake or bad decision,” Kennedy said. “I feel a lot of sympathy for both of you, because I just cannot imagine how painful it must be for two persons such as yourselves who have lived well and good . to be standing before a judge in a federal court knowing that part of your life, certainly your liberty . will be taken away from you.”

Cabrales wept audibly during Kennedy’s questioning, and her attorney John Pierce interrupted the proceedings at one point to notify the judge that she had been picking her cuticles so severely that she was bleeding.

“I’ve gone through a lot, your honor,” Cabrales said. “It was wrongdoing, it was something that could have been stopped, and I accept my punishment. . It was wrong what we did and we’re here because of that.”

Because prosecution and defense attorneys had largely agreed in advance on the prison terms and fines to be imposed on the defendants, the only point of contention during the hearing was a disagreement over Santamaria’s responsibility for a $17,000 loss related to Medical Center computer equipment.

Pierce denied that Cabrales had misdirected any computer funds and said that the losses were likely due to a misplacement of equipment typical for a fast-paced research institution.

“She’s an easy scapegoat,” Pierce said. “It’s just not that unusual in an academic setting when a lot of professors are pursuing grants . when one professor needs equipment that is under another professor’s grant. . The fact of the matter is it wasn’t diverted by Ms. Santamaria.”

Kennedy sided with the defense attorneys, sentencing Santamaria to the total amount requested by the prosecution minus the cost of the disputed computer equipment. He also ordered that both Santamaria and Cabrales be subject to supervised release for three years after their release from prison, meaning that any further criminal activity by either of the two women could result in a return to federal prison.

Santamaria and Cabrales declined to comment after their sentencing. Pierce said in an interview that he was pleased that the parties had been able to reach an agreement acceptable to the court.

“It was something that was worked out by the parties long in advance and the court agreed that it was the appropriate sentence,” he said. “[Santamaria has] a difficult penalty to pay and understands that, and understands that she did wrong.”

Medical Center spokeswoman Laura Cavender expressed gratitude towards the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its efforts in the case, and emphasized that new financial safeguards have been implemented to prevent such incidents in the future.

“Georgetown has a solid financial control system, through which it detected Ms. Santamaria’s embezzlement, and has since taken steps to further strengthen that system and prevent fraudulent activity by individuals,” Cavender said.

She cited toughened financial oversight, new documentation requirements and reductions in the financial power given to individual administrators as safeguards against future abuses. Santamaria was able to routinely misdirect documents and forge spending authorization forms to evade earlier Medical Center security procedures, according to court documents.

The defendants made their first contributions toward the repayment of the stolen funds Friday. Cabrales and Santamaria’s payments, totaling $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, were sent to Georgetown immediately following the hearing.

Kennedy offered the sisters a final thought just before he handed down his sentence.

“In my view, there is a way of redeeming yourself, and that is, truly, to come to grips with what you did, why you did it, and from this day forward, live the life of a law-abiding citizen,” the judge said.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.