LUX­URY CARS, JEW­ELRY BOUGHT WITH EMBEZZLED FIELD CASH: FEDS

Chicago Sun-Times - - POLITICS CITYBEAT - BY JON SEIDEL Staff Re­porter Email: jsei­del@sun­times.com Twit­ter:@Sei­delCon­tent

The woman who stole nearly $ 1 mil­lion from the Field Mu­seum while work­ing there for a decade used the money to buy ex­pen­sive cloth­ing, watches, hand­bags and to drive “one lux­ury car after an­other,” fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say.

Caryn Ben­son faces sen­tenc­ing April 21, more than a year after she pleaded guilty to the em­bez­zle­ment. It was un­cov­ered in April 2014 as the mu­seum un­der­went re­struc­tur­ing and no­ticed miss­ing cash fromthe mem­ber­ship depart­ment, mu­seum of­fi­cials have said. She stole the money by pock­et­ing the cash vis­i­tors sub­mit­ted to pay for mem­ber­ships.

Now, fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors say Ben­son should spend as many as four years in prison after steal­ing from “one of the city’s most sig­nif­i­cant civic in­sti­tu­tions and one of the largest nat­u­ral his­tory mu­se­ums in the world.” As­sis­tant U. S. At­tor­ney Ge­or­gia Alex­akis said the mu­seum could have used that money “for nu­mer­ous worth­while pur­suits.”

“These ef­forts would have ben­e­fited the mil­lions of mem­bers of the pub­lic, Chicagoans and tourists alike, who an­nu­ally visit the mu­seum,” Alex­akis wrote in a memo filed Mon­day. “In­stead, the embezzled funds ben­e­fited only the de­fen­dant, an in­di­vid­ual who took ad­van­tage of the mu­seum’s trust in or­der to steal and con­ceal her crime.”

In fact, Ben­son claimed many of her ex­trav­a­gant pur­chases were gifts, ac­cord­ing to FBI re­ports. They in­cluded a gold chain and a woman’s four- carat di­a­mond Joe Rodeo watch, each about $ 1,500. She also spent nearly $ 1,000 on a men’s watch at Macy’s, and a com­bined $ 1,200 on a pair of men’s shoes and a hand­bag from Gucci.

Ben­son also worked her way up, start­ing in 2006, from a Toy­ota Camry to a 2010 Buick En­clave CX Wagon, a 2011 and 2013 In­finiti QX56 SUV, and a 2014 Nis­san Max­ima — trad­ing ve­hi­cles in along the way. She also used an “un­known amount of cash” to buy a Jaguar in 2012, the feds say.

Ben­son ad­mit­ted she took money from the Field Mu­seum start­ing in about 2007. She told the feds she “started tak­ing small amounts, but then she be­gan tak­ing more and more, to the point it even­tu­ally just got out of hand,” agents wrote.

| SAN­TI­AGO COVARRUBIAS/ SUN- TIMES FILE PHOTO

Awoman pleaded guilty to em­bez­zling nearly $ 1 mil­lion from the Field Mu­seum.

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