34-year old Dodge Watson pleaded guilty to one count identity theft in district court Friday morning.
Watson is a former UH Foundation employee who used his access as a scholarship administrator to settle a $2000 gambling debt with his bookie.
"He created a scholarship at his job at the UH and basically diverted the money from the scholarship to pay off his gambling debt" said his attorney Eric Seitz.
Seitz said it was a one-time offense and that Watson was sorry for his deeds. Prosecutors agreed not to charge Watson with money laundering and running an internet gambling business in exchange for the plea.
Watson, who has since been fired, committed the crime in December of 2012. Seitz says it could have been much worse.
"There were some obvious oversight problems which came to light as a consequence of this case where somebody can just create a false account for someone who's entitled to a scholarship, pay the money and use it for other purposes, which is what happened here" he said.
Watson will be sentenced September 15. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, with a $250,000 fine. Seitz said Watson will repay the money he took from the school.
The UH Foundation sent this statement to Hawaii News Now (on behalf of Donna Vuchinich, president and CEO, University of Hawaii Foundation):
"UHF was contacted by federal agencies conducting an investigation into illegal gambling. During the course of their investigation, the agency had found a UHF check for $2,000. The Foundation immediately launched an internal review. The results of the investigation determined that $2,000 had been embezzled and verified that this was an isolated incident. The employee involved in the transaction was terminated.
A full examination of internal controls was conducted. Further steps have been taken to strengthen and improve financial controls within the Foundation.
The Foundation was cooperating with the federal agencies.
Our board and staff are committed to maintaining financial integrity and accountability. As a nonprofit with the mandate to serve our university by raising and managing private funds, it is imperative that we garner donor trust and effectively steward funds. We feel confident that with the strengthened internal controls implemented, an incident like this will be prevented from happening again."
Trisha Watson, Dodge Watson's older sister, also issued this statement to Hawaii News Now:
"Today some information came to light about a personal situation that our family has been dealing with over the past few months.
Over the last decade, my younger brother, unbeknownst to my family, developed a gambling problem. As that problem developed, he made some very poor decisions. As a result of those poor decisions, he is currently facing some serious legal consequences.
These poor decisions have changed his life forever. It has been shocking and devastating to our family, particularly our parents who raised us to be hard-working and honest adults.
I am deeply disappointed in my brother, but I am proud that he has accepted full responsibility for his actions. On behalf of our family, we are deeply sorry for his misconduct. There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior. Any statements that have been made that may be perceived as an effort to minimize or otherwise justify his behavior are not reflective of our unified position as a family.
We would like to, in particular, express our deepest remorse to the University of Hawai‘i community whose trust in our family was inexcusably violated. We are grateful that the incident was isolated, contained, and appropriately addressed with immediate and corrective action.
We have no other statement as to the University's actions. We find it inappropriate for others to speculate on the internal University response as well.
Despite our disappointment, we are absolutely resolute in our love for my brother and will continue to support him as he faces the consequences of his actions, addresses his gambling problem, and works to rebuild his life and career.
He is a loving husband, a devoted father to his 1-year old son, and above all else, a private person. We ask for empathy and privacy as our family moves through this challenging time.
We are confident that our love for each other and our faith in God will bring our family through this experience stronger than ever.
No other individuals are authorized to speak to the media on our behalf. Inquiries should be directed to the family via this email address. "
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