Dennis Black and Andrea Costantino plead guilty to grand larceny
Former UB administrators charged with stealing more than $330,000 of state funds
Former UB Vice President Dennis Black pleaded guilty to two felony charges in the first and second degree and former Campus Living Director Andrea Costantino pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the fourth degree in front of Judge John L. Michalski Thursday morning at the Erie County Courthouse.
Black will pay back $320,000 to UB after stealing hundreds of thousands from a university bank account. Black also pleaded guilty to falsifying tax information and will pay $22,238 back to the New York State Taxation and Finance Department. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn said Costantino's crime surfaced early last year during the Black investigation. Costantino will pay a $14,664 restitution to the university.
Flynn recommends jail time for Black. He said Black could face a maximum five to 15 years in prison for stealing from state funds. Costantino could face a maximum one to four years in prison.
The Black investigation, which began in June 2016, revealed he had been stealing state funds as early as March 2007. While an investigation into Costantino revealed she had been stealing money since 2013. Black’s theft was revealed when someone at UB noticed irregularities in the travel vouchers for Black's frequent trips.
Black was one of the highest paid employees in Western New York, with a salary of nearly $300,000 per year, according to Flynn. He held numerous UB positions before being appointed vice president of University Life and Services in 2010. In 2015, he drew a salary of $287,385.
Costantino's salary was $123,542 per year. Costantino abruptly resigned her Campus Living position on Aug. 18 after more than 20 years of service. Flynn feels Black’s theft is a “betrayal” of every UB student and reflects poorly on the institution.
UB President Satish Tripathi released a statement to the UB community Thursday morning via email.
"As soon as we uncovered the financial abuse, the University at Buffalo took swift and appropriate measures to tighten financial controls, including assigning authority for all financial decisions and transactions to the Vice President for Finance and Administration," Tripathi said.
In the statement, he also describes the steps the university took to uncover and report the pattern of financial abuse. In July 2016, Tripathi was in consultation with the Office of General Counsel for SUNY and directed UB’s Office of Internal Audit to refer this matter to the New York State Office of the Inspector General. The Office of Inspector General assumed responsibility for the investigation, Tripathi said.
"Throughout the investigation, UB cooperated fully with the Office of the Inspector General, and UB will cooperate fully with the Office of the District Attorney," Tripathi said.
Black and Costantino had access to state funds that they illegally used for personal trips, social events, entertainment and charitable donations.
Black used the stolen funds to pay for his son’s bachelor party, personal travel across the U.S., dues and fees at a local social club, New York Yankees tickets, Broadway tickets, tickets to a Liza Minelli concert and hosting SUNY staff parties at Buffalo Bisons games. Black also used state funds to make donations to various charities, such as United Way, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Christ the King Seminary and Barksgiving -- all of which he illegally wrote off as tax exemptions.
Costantino’s use of state funds included the purchase of a treadmill, a donation that allowed her to participate in the Boston Marathon and a four-night stay in Florida that she wrote off as a college conference. The conference never took place. She also purchased $300 in gift cards to Fleet Feet Sports, which she claimed were for a school sponsored run. However, no such run happened and Costantino used the gift cards for personal purchases.
Flynn said Black had "huge" control over the Faculty Student Association's (FSA) money and worked with six students at the time, who rarely attended meetings. Black diverted a portion of the money into a separate bank account.
Jeff Hagen, New York State Inspector General, discovered Costantino’s theft through the investigation of Black. She resigned on Aug. 18 after more than 20 years of service at UB.
Flynn took a step outside of his professional role to be empathetic to the UB community and said Black has “embarrassed UB students, parents and the entire Buffalo community.”
Brian Mahoney represented Black and Assistant District Attorney Gary M. Ertel of the DA’s Special Investigations and Protections Bureau prosecuted the case. Brendan Kelleher represented the people of New York State in the proceedings.
When Black’s lawyer said Black’s actions were a “lapse of judgment,” Flynn politely disagreed and defended the UB students and community.
“[Black] represents—as he should, when you’re the vice president of UB, when you’re the number three person in charge which I believe he was-- when you represent the institution like that and then you betray that institution, it’s a betrayal to every student, it is a betrayal to every parent, a betrayal to every member of the community, a betrayal of every tax payer here in New York State,” Flynn said.
The investigation is ongoing and Flynn declined to comment on potential outcomes of the ongoing investigation. Flynn and Hagen are working closely with SUNY to prevent future illegal use of state funds.
Attempts to reach Black and Costantino were unsuccessful.
Attempts to reach Elizabeth Lidano, interim director of Campus Living, who replaced Costantino on Aug. 18, were unsuccessful.
Vice President of Student Life, Scott Weber, who replaced Black in January 2017, declined to comment.
“As a university, we are taking every measure to ensure that a clear and consistent set of appropriate business protocols and best financial practices are met in every organization of our university.” Tripathi said. “Across UB we are exercising the utmost diligence in ensuring that all of our university operations adhere to appropriate business protocols and best practices. Integrity and accountability inform every action we take, including taking appropriate and efficient steps when we discover instances where these standards may not have been upheld.”