BETHANY, W.Va. — A tale of sexting, blackmail, and embezzlement involving two couples in Ohio and West Virginia reached a head last week when one of the parties, a former Bethany College cashier, admitted to stealing $1 million from the school to keep an online affair secret from her husband.
Shelly Lough, 46, of Wheeling admitted Friday that she took the money to satisfy the demands of an Ohio couple who federal prosecutors say threatened to turn over evidence of the relationship to her husband unless she paid them.
The Ohio couple, Jason and Rachaelle Weese of Calcutta, Ohio, more than 40 miles south of Youngstown, are under indictment in U.S. District Court in Wheeling on federal extortion charges.
Lough, whose theft was found during an August audit, pleaded guilty to embezzlement and falsifying accounts in state court and will be a witness against the Weeses as will Lough’s husband and Rachaelle Weese’s brother. Lough worked in an office that cashed staff and student checks, and she altered records to cover her tracks.
According to the FBI, Lough engaged in an online relationship with Mr. Weese, 31, from July, 2011, until she ended it in October, 2012. They never had physical contact, authorities said, but traded sexually charged texts and sent each other pictures of their body parts.
Their only contact in the real world, said U.S. attorney William Ihlenfeld, came while exchanging cash for evidence at Bethany College and twice at a McDonald’s in Wheeling.
After Lough stopped the relationship, prosecutors said, the Weeses began threatening her and demanding payments in exchange for their digital media devices, such as cell phones and digital drives containing what Mr. Weese called “the dirt” on their online affair.
The FBI said Lough met with Mr. Weese at Bethany College some 15 times to deliver cash straight from the bank to exchange for the devices. At first she paid in small installments of $9,000 or so, but the cash bundles ballooned.
Mr. Ihlenfeld said Mr. Weese was the instigator of the blackmail scheme but Rachaelle, 26, capitalized on it.
“It was his idea,” he said. “He was the leader. She went along with it.”
It’s not clear when she found out about the online affair, but she joined her husband in making threatening calls to the Lough home, authorities said.
The couple used the cash to buy a $35,000 sport utility vehicle, a Chevy Camaro, jewelry, and other items. When the FBI raided their home a year ago, agents found $262,000 in cash.
Lough and her husband received menacing phone calls at home. At one point in September, the callers threatened to burn the house down, authorities said.
Lawyers for all of the parties either could not be reached Tuesday or had no comment.
The Weeses appeared in federal court for arraignment hearings Friday, the same day Lough pleaded guilty.
Both remain free on bond pending trial.
Lough, who in 2013 confessed to a Bethany College attorney and then to police, is set for sentencing in April.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Torsten Ove is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
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