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Prison sentence begins for owner of popular tavern
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The sign on the door of a popular Springfield restaurant tells patrons that due to a change in ownership they are temporarily unable to serve alcohol.

The previous owner has begun serving a federal sentence for embezzlement from a previous employer. Susan Piros, a Rincon resident who operated Kelly’s Tavern in Springfield, is in the Coleman Federal Correctional Institute, a medium-security facility in central Florida, after she entered a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

As a result, Kelly’s Tavern has lost its local and state alcohol licenses, until new owners go through the process to have their approval granted.

Piros had been vice president of business and finance for St. Xavier University in Chicago for more than a decade. But she pled guilty to embezzling more than $850,000 from the university from 1998-2009.

Piros was charged on Sept. 28, 2011, with one count of theft of a federally-funded program, and she entered her guilty plea in October 2011. According to her plea deal, she was scheduled to surrender herself to the Northern District of Illinois U.S. Marshal by noon on April 2.

In February, she was sentenced to 42 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.

"We were saddened and disappointed by the alleged misconduct of Ms. Susan Piros, former Saint Xavier University vice president for business and finance, who occupied a position of great trust at the university," said Karla Thomas, executive director of media relations at St. Xavier University. "This event draws to a close one of the most painful chapters in our history, but it also begins one of the most painful chapters for the family of Susan Piros."

Federal prosecutors charged Piros with stealing $854,493 from St. Xavier University. According to court documents, Piros used two different methods for reimbursements she was not entitled to receive. Piros was charged with seeking reimbursement for fictitious loans that she purportedly gave to the school. Piros, on a nearly monthly basis, got checks by submitting reimbursement requests, with the expense identified as "paydown" of the non-existent loans.

"In order to conceal her fraudulent activity, (Piros) obtained checks made payable to American Express Optima and Bank One/Chase, which were personal credit cards accounts," the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Normal procedure for St. Xavier University was to issue a check made payable directly to the employee, with the expectation that the employee would pay the credit card issuer.

"In so doing, defendant converted school funds to her own benefit," according to court filings. "Further, when questioned by investigators for the school, defendant created false documents, namely, spreadsheets containing false information and purporting to document the fictitious loans."

She also created false spreadsheets to cover her reimbursements, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

Piros did not submit fraudulent reimbursement claims in July and August, knowing those were the months the university conducted its audits, prosecutors said. She also knew that any reimbursement claim for less than $10,000 only needed her approval as a vice president.

The U.S. Attorney’s office claimed Piros took more than $828,000 through that method.

Piros also asked for reimbursement for itemized expenses that she reported she incurred on the school’s behalf, when they were actually her personal expenses. Piros sought nearly $700,000 in reimbursements over an 11-year period for purchases she claimed to have made on school-issued credit cards.

Piros acknowledged that at least $4,095 of that $700,000 was for personal expenses she was entitled to have reimbursed.

"Further, from 1998 until July 2009, defendant sought approximately $284,000 in reimbursement for purchases purportedly made on behalf of the school on her personal credit cards," federal prosecutors charged.

Of that total, Piros acknowledged that at least $26,486 was for personal expenses she made, for which she was entitled to be reimbursed.

Piros is scheduled to be released from prison in June 2015.

"As we move forward into our future, we know that through all of this, we have never faltered in the university’s ongoing dedication to the mission of educating our students," Thomas said. "In keeping with our Catholic and Mercy tradition, we offer a collective prayer to the Piros family — especially for her children. They also suffer now as victims of her conduct."