Guilty Plea in $1 Million College Embezzlement

WELLSBURG – Shelly Lough admitted Friday that she stole more than $1 million from Bethany College to satisfy demands of two people who were allegedly blackmailing her.

Lough, who appeared before Brooke County Circuit Judge Ronald Wilson, is facing two-to-20 years in prison after pleading guilty to felony counts of embezzlement and falsifying accounts at Bethany, where she worked as a cashier between July 2011 and May 2013 when the thefts occurred.

Lough told police she took money because she was being blackmailed by two people who wanted paid in return for not informing Lough’s husband about an alleged extra-marital affair.

Earlier this month, one of them – Rachell Weese, 26, of Calcutta – was arrested and charged with a federal count of extortion. Although reports in October indicated the amount allegedly taken by Lough to be about $500,000, court documents show the amount may have been more than $1 million.

Although the exact amount Weese was paid in the alleged extortion attempt is not known, the indictment shows the FBI has accounted for various sums which add up to a “substantial” amount. So far, the agency has identified from business records and other means some of Weese’s assets, including paying $35,000 cash for a new SUV and some “very expensive” jewelry totaling more than $25,000. A search warrant executed last year at Weese’s home also turned up $262,000 in cash suspected to have come from Lough.

Meanwhile, Brooke County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Barki said Friday’s plea agreement was fair to the victim, Bethany College, and for Lough, given her cooperation level throughout the investigation.

“It’s my understanding that Ms. Lough received a letter indicating that if the plea agreement went forward and she continues to cooperate as she previously has, the federal government will forego additional charges against her based upon her guilty plea here in state court,” Barki said.

Lough is scheduled to be sentenced April 8.