Former student charged with felony theft

Robert Koch

Matthew Brauer, former member of the University Senate and several student organizations, was charged last Wednesday with felony theft after fraudulently withdrawing $2,608 from an account belonging to the now defunct Coalition for Free Speech.
Records at the University of Minnesota Federal Credit Union indicate Brauer signed for 13 transactions between June 22 and Dec. 30, according to the criminal complaint.
Brauer, who is no longer enrolled at the University, could not be reached for comment.
The coalition failed to re-register with the Campus Involvement Center this year. While in existence, the student organization championed free speech on campus and defended mandatory student-services fees against challenges from conservative groups.
Coalition co-charterer Jason Ruiz said he left the organization prior to the alleged theft. But he and active members tried to resolve the matter internally before going to University Police, Ruiz added.
“We tried to work things out with Matt,” said the cultural studies and comparative literature senior. “We were all really surprised and really disappointed in a friend.”
As an officer, Brauer had access to the organization’s account. Other members discovered the funds missing about the same time an anticipated grant from a local foundation arrived.
Brauer reportedly told fellow members he was “having trouble with his rent” and apologized for taking the money. Although Brauer “wanted to make everything OK,” he has yet to reimburse the coalition or the grantor, according to the complaint.
The Headwaters Fund, a progressive foundation that offers financial support to grass-roots organizations promoting social change, granted the coalition $3,000 last May, said fund director Joy Palmer.
Palmer said the foundation does not intend to recover the money because, to her knowledge, the coalition had spent it in a legitimate fashion prior to the alleged theft.
As a registered student organization, the coalition had “personal responsibility and accountability for the finances and operations of the group,” according to Campus Involvement Center guidelines.
That meant independently securing and maintaining its banking services. The center has no oversight over organizations’ finances, and host financial institutions cannot detect fraudulent withdrawals by authorized organization members.
“(Student organizations) need to be careful, and (they) need to implement a lot of good internal controls,” said June Nobbe, Center director. She recommends student organizations require co-signatures on checks, but added the decision is ultimately up to the individual group.
Brauer was enrolled at the University from September 1998 to December 1999. In addition to his work for the Coalition for Free Speech, Brauer served as a Student Senate member from July 1999 to January 2000, and co-chaired the Queer Student Cultural Center.
The latter organization reportedly conducted a self-audit upon learning of the alleged theft.
Brauer could face up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine if convicted.

Robert Koch covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected]