White flag with purple NYU logo hanging from building
Cindy Tappe allegedly used NYU program funds for personal expenses, including a swimming pool. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A former finance director at New York University (NYU) was indicted for fraudulently mishandling $3.5 million over six years, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Cindy Tappe, 57, was the director of finance and administration at NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and Transformation of Schools, known as the Metro Center, from 2012 to 2018. During this time, Tappe diverted millions of dollars, using some of the proceeds to build an $80,000 swimming pool at her Connecticut home, said Manhattan prosecutors.

Deborah Colson, Tappe’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment.

While Tappe was at NYU, the Metro Center was awarded $24 million in order to administer two programs addressing bilingual education and disproportionately in special education. A percentage of these grants were supposed to go towards minorities and women-owned subcontractors, which would then administer the programs.

However, the three Tappe subcontractors arranged to receive $3.5 million worth of payments who allegedly did not perform work on the contracts and instead routed $3.3 million to two shell companies created by Tappe, High Galaxy Inc. and PCM Group Inc.

While some of these funds were used to reimburse NYU employees for expenses and services, Tappe should have used $660,000 for home renovations and personal living expenses.

“Our multilingual learners and students with disabilities deserve top-notch services, and these funds should have gone directly to their schools,” said Alvin Bragg, Manhattan District Attorney, in a statement. “This $3.5 million fraud also negatively impacted our city’s minority and women owned business enterprises by denying them the chance to fairly compete for and secure the funding.”

Tappe submitted fictional invoices to NYU in order to justify the payments, according to the indictment. In 2018, following the implementation of a new electronic payment system at NYU, the university detected suspicious activity by Tappe and a subsequent internal audit found concerning findings, said NYU spokesman John Beckman. The school then alerted the State Department of Education and State Comptroller’s office.

Tappe, who was charged in New York State Supreme Court with money laundering, grand larceny and falsifying business records, left the university in 2018 upon NYU’s findings, said Beckman. “We are deeply disappointed that an employee abused the trust we placed in him in this way, and we are pleased to have been able to assist in stopping this misdirection of taxpayer money.”

A Former NYU Finance Director Allegedly Diverted Millions in Grant Money to Renovate Her Connecticut Home