Burt Beard, Kirksville business owner and former volunteer treasurer of the University of Missouri Sigma Alpha Epsilon, could go to prison for 30 years for stealing $380,000 from his fraternity.
Beard, after pleading guilty to one count of bank fraud, also could be slapped with a $1 million fine and five years of supervised release.
The case involves “the misuse of money in his volunteer capacity for the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity at MU,” said his attorney, J.R. Hobbs.
According to court records, Beard, 62, embezzled more than $380,000 from March 2008 to August 2014. He admitted he wrote more than 150 checks to himself, which he claimed were reimbursement of personal loans to the fraternity for payments to vendors.
“When asked for copies of his personal checks,” a court document noted, “Beard supplied copies of checks to fictitious vendors or existing vendors that did not have an account receivable for that amount or during that period.”
SAE elected a new slate of officers for the fraternity in the fall of 2014. “During the transition of financial responsibilities from Beard to the new treasurer, numerous red flags began to appear,” according to documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the the Western District of Missouri.
“I very much regret my conduct and accept responsibility for my conduct,” Beard said in a statement from his lawyer. “This was a personal mistake that in no way involved our family business, Beard’s Decorating Center, or Kirksville or Adair County.”
A fraternity brother, Scott Ward, who had been president of the MU SAE house from 1984 to 1988 and knew Beard, said when he learned about what happened, “It made me sad. And angry.”
The money Beard took, Ward said, “was for food and shelter for college students. Some of them had to penny pinched to get that money.”
Ward said such incidents contribute to “giving fraternities a bad name.” He has asked the federal court for permission to speak at Beard’s sentencing hearing. No date for that hearing has been set.
Over the years SAE fraternities across the country have taken a lot of heat for misconduct. At the University of Kansas in 2009, a 19-year-old SAE member died of alcohol poisoning in the off-campus fraternity house. SAE no longer permits alcohol in that house.
Two years ago after the 50th anniversary of civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., a nine-second viral video emerged of SAE members at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist song. The fraternity chapter was suspended, and the university president expelled two students.