BOWLING GREEN - Reading from a yellow sheet of paper clutched between his cuffed hands, Michael McHugh yesterday apologized for stealing from Bowling Green State University, saying he would not hide behind the mental illnesses and alcoholism that have plagued him.
"I'd like to set an example for my children that when you do wrong, you are punished," McHugh, the former manager of the Northwest Ohio Regional Book Depository, said in court.
McHugh, 44, of Bowling Green, pleaded guilty in March to theft in office and telecommunications fraud, both third-degree felonies, for using university funds to purchase more than $450,000 in computers and other electronic equipment, then selling the items on the Internet auction site, eBay, or keeping them for his own use.
Acting on the prosecutor's recommendation, Wood County Common Pleas Judge Reeve Kelsey sentenced McHugh to two years in prison and ordered him to pay $428,966 in restitution to BGSU. He also said once McHugh is released from prison, he must serve five years' probation, perform 300 hours of community service, obtain mental health and alcohol assessments and treatment, abstain from alcohol, and have no contact with the university.
McHugh's attorney, Greg Bakies, had asked the judge for leniency, saying his client had accepted responsibility for his crimes and cooperated with investigators from the start. He said McHugh had lost his career and marriage, had impaired his ability to parent his two children, was bankrupt, and had spent five months in the Wood County Jail.
"Mr. McHugh is a good man who committed wrongful acts," Mr. Bakies said, adding that his client worked for BGSU for 18 years, including 10 as manager of the book depository, a climate-controlled warehouse at Perrysburg's Levis Park where rarely used books are stored for BGSU, the University of Toledo, and UT's medical college, the former Medical University of Ohio.
BGSU officials, who fired McHugh in November, said that between 2001 and 2006, McHugh used his university credit card and purchase orders to buy the merchandise.
McHugh told the court his actions had been fueled by obsessive-compulsive inclinations, alcoholism, and depression. He said he intended to get help so that he could be a good parent and live without the kinds of problems that caused him to steal from his employer.
Gwen Howe-Gebers, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, agreed that McHugh had been cooperative - meeting with and assisting BGSU police and administrators even before her office became involved.
But that cooperation did not mean he should not go to prison, Ms. Howe-Gebers said.
"It still is a matter of public trust being violated," she said, adding that the amount of the theft was significant.
And while investigators recovered some merchandise from McHugh, it's unclear where all the proceeds of his illegal activity went.
"For a person who stole that amount of money, you'd expect to find a bank account with a lot of money in it, but it was not there," Ms. Howe-Gebers said afterward, adding that he had two mortgages on his house. A foreclosure action on one of the loans was filed in Wood County Common Pleas Court yesterday.
Ms. Howe-Gebers said McHugh, who had faced up to 10 years in prison, would be eligible to apply for judicial release from prison after serving six months.
Also yesterday, Judge Kelsey took under advisement a motion filed by the Ohio Attorney General's Office on behalf of the university to have McHugh's retirement fund turned over to BGSU. McHugh's estranged wife, Kelly, has petitioned the domestic relations court to escrow the money and other savings, mutual, and pension funds "until the court can properly determine appropriate distribution of those funds."
Attorneys representing both of the McHughs in their divorce proceedings asked the court to postpone making a decision about the retirement fund until it can be determined which court has jurisdiction over the matter.
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