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CFO for SUNY Canton, SUNY Potsdam, arrested in Georgia

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The attorney for the shared vice president for business affairs and administration at St. Lawrence County’s SUNY colleges said Friday that allegations that she stole from a former employer are without substance.

Natalie L. Higley’s arrest Friday follows her indictment last week on six charges of theft and one count of violating the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act.

She turned herself in to the Decatur County Sheriff’s office in Georgia on Friday and was released after posting a $25,000 bond.

Ms. Higley will not be arraigned, as she has already submitted a plea of not guilty.

Three others were indicted along with Ms. Higley on the same charges. They have all been arrested and released on the same bond amount.

The four stand accused of stealing a tractor, a golf cart, an ice machine, two portable storage buildings and other items from Bainbridge State College in Georgia, where Ms. Higley worked until 2009. She took the job for St. Lawrence County’s SUNY schools in 2012, after working for the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography at the University of Georgia, Savannah. The crimes allegedly took place from 2006 to 2013.

Her attorney, Ryan C. Cleveland, of Bainbridge, said he believes his client is innocent and the matter will be resolved without delay.

He said he can not comment specifically on the evidence until he has finished gathering everything he needs for the case, but noted that some of the charges against Ms. Higley stem from crimes that occurred when she was not even working at Bainbridge State College.

“We look forward to putting this behind us as quickly as possible, because I do believe these charges are without substance,” Mr. Cleveland said.

“I think the evidence will vindicate her and she will be back to work.”

SUNY Canton will perform an internal audit in light of her arrest, said college spokeswoman Lenore VanderZee.

An audit has not yet begun at SUNY Potsdam, but if the case goes to trial an external auditor will be brought in, according to college spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs.

Ms. Higley continues to use her accumulated paid vacation time to take time away from work to answer the criminal charges.

Her duties at the colleges will be performed by other administrators.

Preliminary hearings will be held in Georgia on April 15. If the case goes to a jury trial, it will be held May 5.

SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam released a joint statement following the arrest.

“SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam are still awaiting resolution of the legal proceedings in Georgia against Natalie L. Higley. In the meantime, Ms. Higley will continue to use vacation time during the next few weeks, as she addresses the allegations that have been made against her. During this period, Interim President Dennis Hefner will handle the additional duties associated with the chief financial officer position at SUNY Potsdam, and shared Director of Budgets Shawn Miller will take on those duties for the SUNY Canton campus.”

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