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Former Tufts U. Administrators Nealley And Rodriguez Plead Not Guilty On Embezzlement Charges

This story was written by Rob Silverblatt, Tufts Daily

In an attempt to bring down his boss, an embittered Ray Rodriguez may have brought about his own demise, Jodie Nealley's lawyer claims.

After Nealley and Rodriguez were arraigned today on embezzlement charges, Howard Lewis told the Daily that Rodriguez was the one who submitted the anonymous tip that implicated his client.

Rodriguez, the Office of Student Activities' former budget and fiscal coordinator, and Nealley, the office's former director, are charged with stealing close to $1 million from the university. Both pled not guilty at the arraignment and were released without bail pending a pretrial hearing on Oct. 1.

Lewis said that Rodriguez was angry at Nealley because she passed him over for a promotion, and that Rodriguez tried to blame her for crimes he had committed. Lewis said Rodriguez got more than he bargained for when the investigation spurred by his submission led to his own indictment as well as Nealley's.

"It's clear that Mr. Rodriguez was angry ... and because of that, he started making up allegations," Lewis, of the firm Lewis and Leeper, LLC, told the Daily. "I would suggest that he has a deep-seated hatred for Ms. Nealley, a jealousy."

According to Lewis, this information comes in part from documents provided to him by Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone's office. Jessica Venezia, a spokesperson for Leone, declined to comment on whether her office has uncovered such proof.

Nealley is charged with taking $372,576 from the university and was arraigned on three counts of larceny of over $250. Each count carries up to five years of incarceration. Lewis denied that she took that amount, but he would not say that she did not embezzle any funds-despite her not-guilty plea. "I'm not making any claim right now," he said.

He did suggest that Rodriguez, who was charged with two counts of larceny over $250, was to blame for the vast majority of the missing funds. Rodriguez is already charged with taking $604,873 from Tufts, and Lewis told reporters outside the courtroom that he likely took more.

"Mr. Rodriguez, [who had] been stealing great sums of money and living extravagantly, got himself in trouble," he told the Daily.

Nealley and Rodriguez were set to be arraigned at the Middlesex County Superior Court at 9 this morning, but the proceeding was delayed for over 90 minutes. Nealley, who is using a cane after falling from a ladder while doing yard work, talked quietly with Lewis in the courtroom. Rodriguez sat alone several feet away as he waited for his attorney to arrive.

Facing allegations that he used university money to buy products from designers such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton, Rodriguez showed up to court dressed simply, wearing a black shirt and jeans. He appeared nervous as he bit his nails and leaned over, elbows on his knees.

Both defendants, eyes averted, declined to comment to the Daily.

Rodriguez' lawyer, Steven Goldwyn of the firm Altman and Altman, LLP, would not speak in depth about his client before the arraignment. "Right now, we're not going to say too much," he said. "As the facts come out, we'll go forward from there." He could not be reached after the proceedings to respond to Lewis' accusations.

Following the arraignment, Leone's office released a case statement that discloses previously withheld details. According to the document, during a search of Rodriguez' home, the suspect admitted to using university money to purchase luxury items and go on a number of trips.

Nealley has also admitted involvement, according to Tufts officials, who say she told them in November that she misused university funds. Lewis, who told the Daily in Novembr that he would be willing to challenge the admission if necessary, would not comment on it today.

The case statement also offers further information about how the two former employees allegedly embezzled the funds. It says that Nealley used the Tufts Lighting and Sound (TLS) Account as a front for her embezzlement. The account, which belonged to a defunct group, was supposed to be closed in 2005.

According to Leone's office, Nealley maintained control over it, transferring money from other accounts to TLS. She then used a debit card associated with TLS to withdraw money and purchase items at locations such as IKEA, Foxwoods Resort and Casino and Whole Foods. These expenses amounted to $9,965.26.

She is further charged with transferring $63,500 to her personal line of credit and $91,000 to her Bank of America Checking Account, withdrawing $174,908 in cash from the TLS account, and writing herself $25,003.58 in checks.

Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman had no comment on how Nealley could have had access to the TLS account after it was thought to be closed.

The case statement also contains the first public allegation from Leone's office that Nealley stole from Tufts Student Resources. It states that she took $8,200 in cash from the Rez, a cafe operated by the student organization. The Daily reported in November that TSR had evidence suggesting Nealley had pilfered from the Rez.

As for Rodriguez, Leone's office alleges that he opened a number of credit cards using both his name and that of the university, then used Tufts funds to make. He also is charged with writing himself a check for $100,000 on Aug. 9, 2007.

Although Rodriguez and Nealley were released without bail, they were ordered today to stay away from each other, from witnesses in the case and from the university. They must also turn in any Tufts keys and identification that they have.

Middlesex County Assistant District Attorney John Verner requested these restrictions when summarizing the alleged offenses to the court.

Lewis said he is happy that his client has been released. "The district attorney's office has been very courteous in this matter," he said.

Allegations of embezzlement went public when Nealley was fired in early November. University officials suspected that she was involved after the tip that Lewis said was submitted by Rodriguez indicated that there was money missing from her office. Rodriguez was not publicly named in the case until a grand jury handed down indictments on July 1.

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