Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

Cindy Tappe, a former operations director at the Yale School of Medicine, pleaded guilty last week to embezzling $3.5 million over six years from New York State Education Department grant programs.

Tappe, who worked as an administrator at New York University before Yale, orchestrated the fraud scheme during her employment at NYU. She rerouted $3.5 million earmarked for university equity programs to two fictional shell companies. Using the companies, she stole over $660,000 to cover personal expenses, including an $80,000 swimming pool and over $500,000 in renovations to her home in Westport, Connecticut.

Tappe had previously been charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office with one count of first-degree money laundering, one count of second-degree grand larceny, two counts first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and two counts of first-degree falsifying business records. In January 2023, the DA’s office said that she had pleaded not guilty to all four counts of the indictment. 

However, in late February, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced that Tappe pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree grand larceny.

According to a press release from the office, Tappe will be sentenced to five years’ probation, will sign a written waiver of her right to appeal and provide full restitution totaling $663,209.07 in advance of sentencing.

“Cindy Tappe shamelessly used her high-ranking position at NYU to steal more than $660,000 in state funds,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Her actions … deprived student programs of key resources meant to aid children with special needs and young English Language Learners.”

Before coming to Yale, Tappe was the director of finance and administration for NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and Transformation of Schools. During her time in the position, she redirected money from a pool of $23 million in New York state funding. The funding was allocated to administer two state educational programs that help school districts improve results for English language learners and address disparities in special education.

The funding agreements require that a certain percentage of subcontractors on grant-related projects are awarded to minority- and women-owned business enterprises — or MWBE — to comply with New York state law, the statement said. At NYU, Tappe distributed over $3.5 million of the funding to three certified MWBE subcontractors to provide services related to the grants. 

However, none of the companies worked on the contracts. Instead, according to the district attorney’s office, they acted like “pass-throughs”: Each company took 3 to 6 percent of the invoiced amounts as overhead and sent the remaining $3.25 million to two shell companies she created: High Galaxy Inc. and PCM Group Inc. Tappe also drafted fictional invoices on company letterhead to justify the payments.

Although Tappe used some of the routed funds for NYU payments and employee reimbursements, she kept more than $660,000 for personal expenses, such as renovations to her Connecticut home that included an $80,000 swimming pool. 

“Ms. Tappe strongly regrets her misconduct,” wrote Deborah Colson, Tappe’s lawyer, in an email to the News. “She accepted responsibility for her wrongdoing in open court and will pay the restitution in full prior to sentencing. She looks forward to putting this case behind her.” 

Tappe was confronted by NYU leadership in 2018, before leaving the school. She was hired by Yale in 2019 as the School of Medicine’s operations director; following Tappe’s indictment, Yale initially placed her on leave and later fired her. 

“Yale University terminated Ms. Tappe’s employment after learning of the indictment,” University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote to the News. “Like all Yale employees, she underwent pre-employment screening, including reference and background checks.”

Bragg emphasized that Tappe’s schemes were harmful for the minority groups that grant funding was intended to support.

“Her fraudulent actions not only threatened to affect the quality of education for students with disabilities and multilingual students, but denied our city’s minority and women owned business enterprises a chance to fairly compete for funding,” Bragg said in a press release. 

Tappe was fired from Yale in 2023.

Asuka Koda covers the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health. From New York City, she is a first-year in Davenport majoring in Mathematics and Philosophy.