Cherry Tree salesman indicted for fraud at 27 D.C. schools

A yearbook salesman who worked with the University was indicted by a federal grand jury late last month for allegedly laundering more than $700,000 from yearbook sales at 27 D.C. and Maryland high schools and colleges – including GW – over a period of five years.

Joseph Wenzl, a sales representative from Texas-based Taylor Publishing Company, convinced his company to heavily discount several schools’ yearbook contracts without reflecting those discounts in invoices he sent to the schools. He kept the difference for himself.

Wenzl is facing 15 counts of wire and mail fraud and can face up to 20 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release for each count he is convicted. Four of the 15 counts against Wenzl are due to his interactions with GW. He will be arraigned in court Friday and is being prosecuted by Maryland’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

According to the indictment, Wenzl directed GW and other schools to submit their payments between 1998 and 2003 to College Creations, a bank account in his name. Wenzl then submitted a portion of the schools’ yearbook payments to Taylor Publishing to cover the discounted invoice owed.

Junior Bevin Doherty, editor in chief of GW’s yearbook The Cherry Tree, referred all inquiries about the indictment to the Office of Media Relations. Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations, said the invoices GW received were not suspected to be fraudulent.

“We had noticed no billing irregularities,” she said in an interview last week. “Our billing invoices were certainly within our budget.”

Schario said it is not clear exactly how much money was stolen from the University because of the fraudulent billing. The indictment states that GW was sent an invoice in the amount of $62,938. A second invoice was sent in the amount of $60,066. However, it is unclear how much of this money was forwarded to Taylor Publishing in order to cover the actual cost of the contract and how much Wenzl kept.

Because the $700,000 that was allegedly retained by Wenzl was dispersed amongst 27 schools, Schario said she expects the amount lost by GW to be relatively small.

“You could be talking an amount that would cost more in legal fees to reclaim than it’d be worth,” she said.

Schario added there have been no discussions between GW and Taylor Publishing regarding compensation for the money lost, and there have been no policy changes at GW due to this incident.

Julia Jordan, a Taylor Publishing sales representative, said the company still holds a contract with The Cherry Tree and will be publishing GW’s upcoming yearbook. She said that since Wenzl left in 2003, the company has revised its billing policies.

“There were certain measures put in to safeguard the customers,” said Jordan, who is the current Taylor representative working with The Cherry Tree. “There’s some checks and balances. The invoicing is done directly to GW through (Taylor’s) headquarters.”

Jordan said the relationship between GW and Taylor Publishing has not suffered due to the incident. During the time Wenzl was allegedly involved in this fraud, Jordan was the technology representative who worked with The Cherry Tree. When Wenzl was being investigated in 2003, Jordan was moved up to his position as the D.C.-area sales representative and said she immediately worked to defuse the situation.

“I called on all my customers that were named (in the investigation) and talked to them about it,” she said. “They support me. They know me – and that I’m there to do whatever I can for them.”

Other schools Wenzl allegedly defrauded include the U.S. Naval Academy, Howard University, Edmund Burke School in D.C., and Fairmount Heights High School in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. Wenzl is being prosecuted in Maryland.

Jordan added that she also worked with Wenzl in the past and said the investigation was not something she expected.

“It’s hard to think of something like that from someone you’ve known or known in a different capacity,” she said. “That’s why you kind of don’t know what to say.” n

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