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Former UB exec Black spared jail, gets five years probation

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A disgraced former University at Buffalo vice president who admitted last fall to stealing more than $330,000 of state funds for personal use and benefits will not go to jail. Instead, State Supreme Court Justice John Michalski sentenced Dennis Black, who has already paid full restitution, to five years probation.

On September 7, 2017, Black pleaded guilty to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. He admitted to taking state funds while filing improper tax claims to gain personal deductions.

Prosecutors on Friday morning acknowledged that Black has paid $320,000 to UB and $34,302 to New York state, the latter for taxes. But Candace Vogel, the Erie County District Attorney's Chief of Special Investigations and Prosecutions Bureau, pushed for jail time.

"This should not be a situation where the defendant pays back the negotiated stolen sum and walks out of this court and this community with all forgiven," Vogel said. 

Black resigned suddenly in the summer of 2016 from his position as Vice President of University Life Services. He worked for nearly four decades at UB and was one of its more recognized faces, used some of the money he stole for large contributions to local cultural and charitable organizations.

He also, in his guilty plea, acknowledged spending some of the money on concerts and sporting events, paying personal dues to the Buffalo Saturn Club and supporting an arts festival in South Carolina, where he relocated following his resignation.

The money Black stole came from an account managed and funded by the UB Faculty Student Association, which operates the university's food services and book stores. The funds were, as prosecutors described, payments to UB that Black then steered illegally into an account other than an official UB account, putting the dollars outside of the state's fiscal controls. His thefts, according to the Inspector General's office, date back to 2007.

Black apologized in court, and expressed his regrets for the pain his deeds have caused his family and community. 

"I realize this is only the start of an ongoing rebuilding process that will take all my time and attention in the future," he said. "But I'm committed to a lifetime of service to repay my debt to the communities."

Releasing a statement on behalf of the UB Faculty Student Association was its representative, attorney Timothy Hoover: "The UB Faculty Student Association is pleased that restitution to UB has been made.

"The UBFSA has taken several steps to strengthen its financial controls and procedures, in cooperation with university efforts to enhance its internal control structure over the past several years.

"Outside, independent directors joined the UBFSA’s governing board and the newly created audit committee is operating; a new outside auditor is in place; all revenues transferred from the UBFSA to UB are now verified to be in accounts overseen solely by the UB Office of Finance and Administration; and, the UBFSA’s board now includes seven UB administrative officers, including the UB controller.

"UBFSA and its employees perform quality work on behalf of the university, our students and staff. UBFSA continues to fulfill its mission to provide the highest-quality services to the UB community."

The university also released a brief written statement following Friday's court proceedings: "Throughout these legal proceedings, we have had confidence in the judicial process. We are pleased that restitution to the university has been made as part of the Mr. Black’s guilty plea."

Judge Michalski, when speaking to Black, called him an "enigma," who had done so much good while doing so much wrong. He then told Black he deserved some jail time, but because of the non-violent nature of his crimes he didn't feel it was appropriate to send Black to state prison. However, because the law prevented Mihcalski from choosing county jail time, he opted for probation.

Michalski also ordered 2,500 hours of community service but Black is prohibited from participating in any role that gives him access to money.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn was out of town Friday but backed Vogel's courtroom push for jail time. 

"His actions speak for themselves," Flynn said. "His actions were outrageous. His actions were detrimental to my alma mater, the University at Buffalo, and to this community." 

Black's sentencing follows one given last month to one of his former subordinates, Andrea Constantino, The Depew woman worked for Black as UB's Director of Campus Living. She admitted last year to stealing funds from the same FSA account to use for personal needs including the purchase of a treadmill, gift cards and a charitable donation related to the Boston Marathon which earned her entry into the race. She also paid for hotel accommodations and airline tickets for a trip to Kissimmee, Florida to attend a conference that, investigators say, never happened.

She was sentenced in December to a three-year conditional discharge and 250 hours of community service. The Inspector General's office says she repaid $14,664 in restitution.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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