WELLSBURG, W.Va. - Shelly Lough stole nearly $1.4 million from Bethany College in an effort to stop an alleged extortion attempt by two people who allegedly threatened to harm her children in addition to exposing an extramarital affair.
Taking the alleged extortion into account - as well as Lough's cooperation in pursuing federal charges against the pair responsible for the extortion attempt - Brooke County Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson on Tuesday handed down a sentence on Lough, 46, of Wheeling, that could result in her serving as little as six months in jail.
Lough pleaded guilty Feb. 28 to one count of embezzlement and one count of falsifying accounts. She admitted she took the money to satisfy repeated demands from an Ohio couple who allegedly were blackmailing her for money in exchange of a promise to not expose her extra marital relationship to her husband.
Wilson ordered Lough to serve one-to-10 years each for the two charges. The sentences will be served consecutively for an effective sentence of two-to-20 years. He then told Public Defender William Brogan to file for a Rule 35 reduction of sentence hearing after Lough completed six months behind bars. At that time, the remainder of the sentence could be suspended in lieu of probation.
Brooke County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Barki asked the judge to sentence Lough to consecutive one-to-10 years sentences, and then suspend the second one after successful completion of the first one. That would have made her eligible for parole in one year.
At Tuesday's hearing, Brogan called several of Lough's friends to testify about her character. Many testified Lough is a good person who made a bad decision. However, Bethany College President Scott D. Miller gave an impact statement on behalf of the college, citing the amount of work and hardship Lough caused the college.
"Her action represented a tremendous breach of trust in an institution founded on trust," he said.
Miller said he had compassion for Lough, but her actions cost the school thousands of dollars in staff hours to investigate the theft. Barki called Lough a sympathetic defendant who may have acted out of character, but her acts demand repercussions.
"I don't believe the defendant is a threat to society, but her crime is mind boggling," Wilson said.
Barki said the state did not bring all of the charges it could have because Lough is cooperating with federal authorities in the case against Jason and Rachaelle Weese, of Calcutta, who are under indictment in U.S. District Court in Wheeling on federal extortion charges.
During the course of the theft, authorities say, Lough worked in an office that cashed staff and student checks, and covered her tracks by altering records. She made her first blackmail payment of $9,000 in January 2012 and continued paying through April 2013, until a total of $1.38 million had been taken and turned over to the Weese's to buy their silence. The pair had threatened to expose an affair to Lough's husband and to take the information to local media and college authorities. They also allegedly threatened to harm Lough's children.
Wilson gave Lough until 10 a.m. today to self report to the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville.
Connors is the senior staff writer for The Intelligencer in Wheeling, W.Va.