Business professor pleads guilty

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February 13, 2009

12:56 AM

A visiting professor at the College of William and Mary pled guilty last week to federal charges of computer fraud, for using spy software while he was teaching in Minnesota to monitor a former student’s online activity.

Stephan Grzeskowiak, currently a professor at the Mason School of Business, was teaching at St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minn. when the crime took place. This semester, Grzeskowiak is teaching two sections of undergraduate Marketing Research and one section of Service Quality and Marketing, as well as a graduate marketing research course.

Documents from the U.S. District Court in Madison, Wisc. say Grzeskowiak unlawfully accessed an individual’s private e-mails and instant messages, which he then used to contact her, violating an existing restraining order.

A separate civil court filing suggests the woman who brought the charges is a former graduate student at St. Thomas College who was involved romantically with Grzeskowiak. The allegations state that Grzeskowiak used software called SniperSpy to monitor the woman’s online activity. The suit also says that Grzeskowiak harassed the student in an online support group using the pseudonyms “Phantasy,” “Courageous” and “Romantic.”

Action in the civil case will resume now that criminal charges have been levied.

The Flat Hat was unable to reach Grzeskowiak for comment.

The FBI arrested Grzeskowiak in September 2008 on a warrant issued in Madison. He was later relieved of his fall semester teaching duties at the College. After reviewing the case, Mason School of Business Dean Larry Pulley ’74, along with Provost Geoff Feiss and the College’s legal team, determined that Grzeskowiak should remain on the faculty.

“Nothing in the nature of the allegations, no matter how it turned out in regards to his guilt or innocence, would suggest any risk whatsoever to our students,” Pulley said. “Everyone on the College’s side of the equation — and there were four or five people involved — came to exactly the same conclusion.”

Some students in Grzeskowiak’s classes are concerned about their professor’s legal history. The Flat Hat talked to four of Grzeskowiak’s students. Two requested anonymity. The names of those quoted have been changed so their comments would not affect their grades.

A female student being quoted on the condition of anonymity questioned why Grzeskowiak was allowed to remain on the faculty.

“I think it’s interesting that this professor was able to stay on board as a faculty member and only given a slap on the wrist,” she said. “If charges like these were brought against a student, I do not feel as though they would be allowed to stay here.”

A male student quoted on the basis of anonymity expressed similar concerns, though he did not think the business school owed students any kind of explanation.

“While I am not sure if I like the idea of having him as a professor, I don’t think that it would be appropriate to address it in class,” he said.

Pulley said that confidentiality concerns prevented the business school administration from sharing much information with students.

“It’s an ongoing investigation, so there’s not much that can be shared,” he said. “If students had been with us in every step of the investigation, they would have come to the same conclusion.”

The two charges that Grzeskowiak pled guilty to last week each carry a maximum one-year prison term and a $100,000 fine. Sentencing for this case is scheduled for April.

When Grzeskowiak was arrested in September he faced six federal charges of unauthorized access to private e-mails. Those charges were eventually reduced to the two counts Grzeskowiak pled guilty to last week.

“The United States determined that his plea to these two charges would adequately address his criminal conduct,” Timothy O’Shea, an assistant U.S. attorney in Madison assigned to Grzeskowiak’s case, said. “Our view of the evidence did not change.”

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