Former AAVMC staffer pleads guilty to $500,000 theft
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.
Mohamed Ashour, 39, a Canadian citizen from the Toronto area, appeared Jan. 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-dollar fine, U.S. assistant attorney Thomas Zeno tells DVM Newsmagazine.
Caught on the run
Since Ashour's termination as AAVMC chief financial officer in February 2001, authorities say the suspect has been on the run.
The search ended in December when police recognized Ashour on a Washington street. Considered a flight risk, he's being held without bail in a local jail until sentencing.
Meanwhile, details of the case have been made public. According to a FBI 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 responsible for keeping.
Ashour did not have check-writing privileges, but he was responsible for 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 showed a $20,000 unauthorized withdrawal from an AAVMC account. Ashour claimed Mann gave the go-ahead to cover payroll expenses, but it was later determined that the bookkeeper forged Mann's signature, and on Feb. 22, 2001, he was terminated.
A search of Ashour's office revealed many large bank withdrawals, thousands of dollars in corporate credit card debt in the names of former AAVMC employees and association checks payable to Ashour's girlfriend and himself.
Even after his termination, Ashour successfully negotiated a number of checks totaling almost $16,000, drawn from a closed AAVMC account by forging Mann's signature. Tracking his activities, the FBI reports Ashour opened a number of bank accounts, deposited phony AAVMC checks and drew on those checks 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 assumed the top spot again when he resigned "due to the upheaval and financial stress," Mann told DVM Newsmagazine in June.
The financial loss could have bankrupted the not-for-profit group, Crawford says, if it hadn't been for the generosity of its 62 members and cutting back to "the bare bone" on expenditures.
"We actually have a surplus again, and it took nine months to do that," 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 all the member institutions pitched in and provided some personnel and technical help."
Turning the page
But as AAVMC regains fiscal health, the veterinarian rumored to be accepting a high-end U.S. Food and Drug Administration appointment says he's stepping down 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 be sure that nothing like this will happen to AAVMC in the future."