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Former UB vice president pleads guilty to stealing $320,000 from university

Dennis R. Black, the former longtime University at Buffalo vice president who resigned unceremoniously last year, pleaded guilty Thursday morning in State Supreme Court to felony charges that accuse him of stealing $320,000 from a university-related bank account.

Black spent stolen funds on an assortment of luxuries and personal expenses, tickets to see James Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Yankees games and Broadway shows, $34,000 for membership in the private Saturn Club, UB staff parties at Bisons games, travel with his wife, and his son's wedding.

Black embarrassed everyone in Buffalo, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. said in a news conference after Black's court appearance.

Flynn said he plans to seek prison time as part of Black's sentence. Black faces a maximum of 5 to 15 years in prison for the second-degree grand larceny charge and 1 1/3 to 4 years on the charge of first-degree filing a false instrument.

Black will repay the $320,000 in restitution to UB, a prosecutor said in court. He will also pay $22,238 in taxes owed to New York State. The former UB executive admitted filing a false personal state tax return for 2014.

Black was permitted to remain free of custody until his sentencing, scheduled Jan. 10. In pleading guilty, Black waived his right to appeal the conviction.

Another UB official, Andrea Costantino, who recently resigned as director of campus living, pleaded guilty in court shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday to fourth-degree grand larceny, admitting she stole $14,664 from UB. Costantino's salary from UB was $123,542 a year. She will pay full restitution of the $14,664 to the university, her attorney said. She is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6. Flynn said he has not decided whether he will seek prison time for Cosantino.

The News reported last October that Black was at the center of an investigation by the State Inspector General's Office and the Erie County District Attorney's Office into hundreds of thousands of dollars of questionable expenditures at UB. Sources familiar with the investigation told The News that Black used UB funds to make charitable gifts in his name and to pay for travel expenses for his wife.

Black resigned shortly after university President Satish K. Tripathi questioned him about the expenditures, sources said.

UB vice president Dennis Black resigns

Black for years was one of UB's most well-known administrators, both on campus and off. As vice president, he oversaw university life and services, including UB's dormitories and dining halls, and interacted often and regularly with students. In the community, he led back-to-back United Way campaign drives in 2012 and 2013 and was in line to take over as chairman of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra board.

But Black's close relationship with UB and the Western New York community unraveled quickly and mysteriously last summer. Tripathi declined to discuss the reasons behind Black's departure.

Costantino resigned her post Aug. 18 after 20 years at the university, and four days into a staff training session, according to the Spectrum.

After his resignation, Black and his wife relocated to Mount Pleasant, S.C., outside of Charleston.

Dennis Black at center of investigation over UB spending

In an interview with The News last October, Black denied deliberately misusing university money and said that UB officials raised questions with him about expenses under his purview and whether they had been properly authorized and documented.

Black, whose 2015 UB salary was $287,385, said a university audit found "process and reimbursement issues" related to expenses over a three-year period totaling around $15,000 for travel, meals and accommodations. Black said he paid the money back.

"We're talking hundred and thousands here, not hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was an audit. Reimbursement was made," he said. "If there were errors made they were correctable errors."

Investigators were focused on expenditures tied to the Faculty-Student Association, also known as Campus Dining & Shops., a $40 million non-profit corporation affiliated with UB.

Sources said investigators were examining questionable expenses of $250,000 to $600,000.

University officials would not comment Thursday but released a statement to The News saying that the university was aware of the district attorney's investigation and "has cooperated fully with the investigating agencies."

Watch Thursday morning's news conference from Flynn and officials from the state Inspector General's Office (press conference begins at 8:28 mark):

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