Pilchen used SA funds for movies, Wawa, cigarettes

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September 2, 2008

4:09 AM

Student Assembly Vice President and former President Zach Pilchen ’09 admitted last night to making personal purchases amounting to $138.51 at the end of last semester using a debit card connected to an off-campus account managed by the SA.

Pilchen came forward concerning his involvement with the missing funds after SA President Valerie Hopkins ’09 confronted him following an investigation by Hopkins, Senators Matt Beato ’09 and Walter McClean ’09, Secretary of Finance Yael Gilboa ’11 and Senate finance chair Caroline Mullis ’09. Upon returning from summer break, the group encountered a discrepancy in the account’s funds, as well as a missing statement that contained the purchases in question.

Nobody could offer an explanation as to why the statement was missing.

The purchases, which range from just over $3 to $20, took place during a 15-day span beginning April 28 and ending May 12.
Pilchen acknowledged using funds from the SA’s account to buy items such as movie tickets, cigarettes and sandwiches. The purchases were made at a variety of Williamsburg area stores including Wawa, Rite-Aid and McDonald’s. The initial purchase occurred at a movie theater on April 28.

“I had been carrying [the debit card] around,” Pilchen told The Flat Hat last night. “I literally went to a movie, pulled my wallet out, and gave them the card and then got it back and was like ‘holy shit, that’s the Student Assembly card.’”

Hopkins remembered Pilchen admitting the incident and believed that it was an isolated occurrence.

“He seemed genuinely kind of surprised, and he was very lighthearted about it …. He was like, ‘I can’t believe I did this, I accidentally bought tickets to “Harold and Kumar” and I really don’t want to run into problems with that,’” Hopkins said. “He was like, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to pay it back no problem, it’s fine. I’ll just go to the bank and deposit it.’ I’m not Zach’s mom. I didn’t want to stand over him; I trusted him to do that.”

Over the next two weeks, Pilchen ran up 16 more charges on the account. He did not pay anything back, although he said plans to pay off his debt today.

The SA account, which is managed by SunTrust bank and is required by SA bylaws to be held in the names of the SA president and secretary of finance, has a current balance of $16,797.81. It is comprised entirely of money raised by the SA through sales, drives and other fundraising efforts. The fund does not include any student activities money and is intended to be used “for, but not limited to, special projects and events,” according to the SA code.

The debit card used in Pilchen’s purchases has a $750 cap on monthly spending that was intended to limit the cardholder’s ability to withdraw large amounts.

Every transaction made using the debit card is required to be approved by the SA president. However, Pilchen’s name remained on the card following the March SA election won by Hopkins even though the SA code states that signatory authority of the account must be transferred to the new president and secretary within five business days of inauguration.

Pilchen’s purchases occurred after his presidency had expired.

“[Pilchen] should have switched the account over within five days,” Beato said. “If [Hopkins] didn’t authorize some of those expenses, they are absolutely not allowed.”

Hopkins and Pilchen credit the delay in transferring over the accounts to the Williamsburg City Council election, the exam period and the resignation of Secretary of Finance Andrew Blasi ’10 at the end of the year. According to Hopkins, the account will be transferred into hers and Gilboa’s names today.

Debit card statements released by the SA show a pattern of small purchases developing after the card was used at the cinema. Over the next two days, $25.57 was charged at Wawa, while six purchases totaling $32.09 were made on May 6 and 7 at Wawa, the Student Exchange and McDonald’s.

“I literally just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal,” Pilchen said. “I would not have tried to do this maliciously.”
Pilchen said he planned to pay back all the money when he returned to campus after spending the summer in Washington.

He also said he wants to gauge student reaction before deciding whether to issue a campus-wide apology.

While the off-campus fund has existed for some time, the debit card was added during Pilchen’s presidency. Hopkins credits the card’s creation as the manifestation of a trust between the senate and the executive, but believes the card’s future existence will now be called into question.

“Regardless of whether or not all of this happened, the finance committee had to revisit executive spending Oct. 14,” Hopkins said, referring to a previously-planned review. “I think now it’s just going to come much sooner. I think we all pretty much agree that, as frustrating as it might be for me, that a debit card will no longer be there for SA presidents — at least for the time being.”

Flat Hat Assoc. News Editor Sam Sutton contributed reporting.

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