A 19-year-old employee of a Rochester, New York, community college stole thousands of dollars from students' online accounts because he needed the money "to find a cure for HIV," according to investigators.

Terry Zimmerman was charged late last week with one count of computer fraud after allegedly confessing to a Brighton, New York, police investigator. Zimmerman said he stole the money "to help find a cure for HIV and because he owed money to others," according to an affidavit by US Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barry Couch, filed in the case.

His lawyer, Robert Smith, declined to comment on the matter Wednesday.

Zimmerman worked at Monroe Community College's Electronic Resource Center, where one of his jobs was to help students log into their college accounts. In late October, the school started receiving complaints that some students were not receiving their tuition refunds.

The school found that about a dozen users of its online refund program, called eRefunds, had had their bank account numbers and email contact addresses changed, so that refunds and notifications were not sent to the students.

Police say debit cards associated with the unauthorised bank accounts were mailed to Zimmerman's address, and that the new e-mail contact addresses belonged to Zimmerman too.

More than US$10,000 in refunds was stolen, according to the affidavit.