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ST. LOUIS • The former director of a Webster University institute pleaded guilty to a federal charge of transporting stolen property across state lines Thursday and admitted embezzling at least $180,000.

Deborah Pierce, 62, of St. Louis, was a professor at Webster University and the director of the Confucius Institute there from 2007 to July 1, 2015.

In September 2013, she established an unauthorized bank account and “directed” institute funds through that account. She withdrew large amounts of cash and paid personal expenses of herself and relatives, her plea says.

The institute was funded by both the school and the People’s Republic of China and existed to promote academic research, community outreach and cultural exchange, Pierce's plea says.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Albus and Pierce lawyers have agreed that at least $180,000 was improperly diverted from the account, but disagree on whether that total should be higher.

Pierce is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 4 and could face 18-24 months behind bars under recommended federal sentencing guidelines.

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