James Beckwith
James Beckwith (Peter Crabtree)

BENNINGTON - James Beckwith was found dead Wednesday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the same day federal authorities filed a complaint alleging he embezzled $440,000 while serving as acting president of Southern Vermont College.

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont filed a civil forfeiture complaint on Wednesday seeking to forfeit assets in the name of James Beckwith, who began working as chief financial officer and chief operating officer for SVC in 2007.

Beckwith served one year as acting president beginning January 2012 while President Karen Gross took a leave of absence to work for the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the complaint and an accompanying affidavit prepared by the FBI, Beckwith embezzled $440,000 from the school between October 2012 and January 2013. Officials said he allegedly did so by fraudulently inducing college officials to issue three checks in the amount of $100,000, $160,000 and $180,000 to Merrill Lynch.

The affidavit states Beckwith told college officials the funds were to be used to settle legal claims arising from a failed dormitory project, however the three checks were actually deposited into a personal account Beckwith shared with his wife at Merrill Lynch.

According to the affidavit, Beckwith used the proceeds of the first two checks, totaling $260,000 to pay down the balances on mortgage and home equity loans on his personal residence in South Londonderry. The complaint alleges that Beckwith's residence, as well as the money in his Merrill Lynch account, are forfeitable as proceeds of mail fraud and as property involved in money laundering.

Federal officials said no charges have been filed and are only accusations.

The college began looking into the alleged embezzlement after a financial audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 found "suspicious financial transactions involving purported vendor payments made by Beckwith," according to the affidavit.

Subsequent investigation into various college bank accounts then revealed the three checks totaling $440,000 that were deposited into Beckwith's personal account.

Beckwith resigned effective immediately from SVC Feb. 3 and the affidavit states the FBI was contacted Feb. 8 by legal counsel from the college.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi