WHEELING, W.Va. - An extramarital affair conducted via cellphone - complete with explicit messages and photographs - was the catalyst for a scheme that resulted in more than $1 million being stolen from Bethany College last year.
The plot that used "fear and threats" and led to that theft resulted in extortion and other federal charges against Jason Kirkland Weese and his wife, Rachaelle Marie Weese, both of Calcutta. The two pleaded guilty to those charges Wednesday in back-to-back hearings before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Seibert.
Rachaelle Weese, 26, is facing up to 20 years in prison after admitting to extortion conspiracy while Jason Weese, 31, could receive to 40 years in prison for his guilty plea to extortion conspiracy and aiding and abetting money laundering.
U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II, who prosecuted the case, said both defendants admitted they used fear and the threat of force to cause Shelly Lough to provide them with large amounts of cash that Lough took from her former employer, Bethany College.
The money laundering charge against Jason Weese resulted from his purchase of a 2013 Chevrolet Camaro with a portion of the cash he received from Lough. Both admitted to using the money received from Lough to purchase a 2013 Mitsubishi sport-utility vehicle and a 2013 Honda all-terrain vehicle, as well as large amounts of prescription drugs.
Evidence introduced at Wednesday's hearings established that Lough had exchanged sexually explicit messages and images with Jason Weese.
The Weeses then threatened to turn over the images and messages to Lough's husband if Lough did not comply with the demands for cash. Lough complied until she lost her job at the college, and when she could no longer pay the Weeses, Jason Weese threatened to burn down Lough's Ohio County home.
As part of their plea agreements, the Weeses are required to make full restitution to Bethany College, a part of which will be satisfied through the liquidation of vehicles acquired through the extortion and seized by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Lough was convicted in April on state charges of embezzlement and falsification of accounts in Brooke County after admitting to the theft of $1.038 million from Bethany.
Connors is the senior staff writer for The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.