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Former school principal in Iowa guilty of wire fraud for fake purchases and schemes, faces prison and fines

CEDAR RAPIDS – A former curriculum and technology director and principal who stole at least $250,000 from the private school system in which he worked pled guilty today in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Todd Charles Wessels, age 49, from Dubuque, Iowa, was convicted of one count of wire fraud. In a plea agreement, Wessels admitted he was the Curriculum and Technology Director for a private, religious, not-for-profit school district in Dubuque. Wessels was responsible for ensuring that the school district met the technology needs of approximately 1,800 students at its high school, middle school, and elementary schools. Before 2016, Wessels also served in a dual role as the principal of one of the elementary schools.

Beginning on an unknown date but no later than June 2011, Wessels devised and executed a scheme to make purchases for his own benefit with the school district’s funds. Wessels made purchases of pre-paid debit cards using the school district’s store credit cards at area businesses upon the false and fraudulent pretense that he needed funds for “apps” for students’ computers. Wessels then electronically transferred the balances of the pre-paid debit cards to another account that he controlled at PayPal, Inc., an electronic payment transfer system based in California. Wessels had, without the school district’s knowledge, falsely and fraudulent opened the PayPal account in the school district’s name but under the handle “WENWESS”. Finally, Wessels provided the school district receipts for the purchases of the pre-paid debit cards on the false and fraudulent pretense that the use of the store credit cards was for legitimate purchases. Wessels also sold the school district’s computer equipment on third-party Internet websites without its knowledge or permission.

In July 2019, a new chief administrator at the school district began looking into Wessels’s spending practices. Wessels repeatedly lied to administrators and submitted fraudulent invoices and receipts to them in order to conceal his scheme to defraud. At meetings in January and February 2020, Wessels provided hardcopy versions of false, fraudulent, and fictitious spreadsheets purporting to show the apps he had purchased.

Sentencing before United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams will be set after a presentence report is prepared. Wessels remains free on bond pending sentencing. Wessels faces a possible maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

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