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Former UA administrative assistant arrested on fraud and theft charges

Esther Kathryn Lake allegedly used university funds to buy more than $335,700 worth of items including airfare, rental cars and computers she later resold online.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A former University of Arkansas administrative assistant faces multiple charges after allegedly using university credit cards to purchase items she then resold online. 

According to a probable cause affidavit, around Feb. 28, 2021, Esther Kathryn Lake, 44, quit her job as administrative assistant to the head of the World Language, Literature and Cultures Department, Steven Bell. 

After she quit, the assistant dean for finance and administration within the Fulbright College was notified about suspicious charges Lake allegedly made while she worked in the department. This led the dean to investigate further, causing him to report the potential fraud of $200,000 to campus police. 

The affidavit states that since her employment began in September of 2018, Lake had access to multiple university purchasing cards, including one from Joseph Covey, Director of the Center for World Languages. It was reported that there were several invoices for unrecognized purchases. 

Lake also allegedly had access to a stamp of Bell's signature, which was used for several other unauthorized invoices. Bell confirmed with police that his signatures were either stamped or forged.

The purchases were marked as "computer for lab" or "computer for global teaching needs." Bell told police that Lake was only authorized to use the stamp for academic purposes and never for purchasing. Lake was not allowed to buy computers or technology because those were supplied from the IT department.

University bank statements showed that the purchases were made primarily at Best Buy and on the Best Buy website.

Police obtained the purchase records from Best Buy and Lake's rewards account, which showed charges from both her's and Covey's cards. The affidavit states that these dates and amounts were consistent with the university's bank statements. The purchases were also made in Lake's name and with her contact information, including her and her husband's email accounts. 

The affidavit states the purchases included gaming computers and technology. Additional purchases were made from Amazon and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Records show that Lake rented vehicles using the university cards. 

Bell confirmed with police that Lake did not have university-funded travel matching the travel costs she paid with the cards. The affidavit also mentions that Lake bought airfare for a relative using a university card.

After police made a public search on Lake's social media pages, they discovered that she had previously sold multiple computers and technology consistent with her Best Buy purchases. A search warrant confirmed that Lake sold hundreds of items matching her Best Buy purchases on Facebook. 

After an investigation, police found a total of 248 unauthorized purchases totaling more than $335,700. 

Lake is now facing charges of theft of property and fraudulent use of a credit card.

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