HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. – The former Northern Kentucky University athletic director accused of stealing $311,215 in university funds has agreed to serve 10 years in prison in a plea deal, state Attorney General Jack Conway said Thursday.
Scott Eaton pleaded guilty Thursday to felony theft by unlawful taking between $10,000 and $1 million, Conway said at a news conference at NKU.
Eaton, 50, of Ft. Thomas, Ky., agreed to serve the maximum sentence and repay the full amount of his theft, plus a $1,000 fine and court costs, Conway said.
Eaton would be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of his time - two years of a 10-year sentence, Conway said.
Eaton's attorney, Ben Dusing, told WCPO Eaton does not have the money to repay NKU.
"He regrets his actions," Dusing said. "He apologizes again and has apologized in the past for his actions and he accepts responsibility."
Eaton did not speak at his appearance in Campbell Circuit Court Thursday. Eaton will be formally sentenced on May 20.
Conway called Eaton's six-year thievery – from January 2007 to March 2013 – "ongoing" and "willful."
“At a time when higher education institutions are being asked to accomplish more with smaller tuition increases and declining state funding, the reckless behavior exhibited by Scott Eaton is unconscionable,” Conway said.
Conway said the amount Eaton stole would pay a year's tuition for more than 40 NKU students.
"I believe the punishment fits the crime," Conway said.
Eaton stole most of the athletic department funds – $262,106 – by using his NKU-issued credit card to purchase Kroger gift cards, Conway said. Eaton then used the gift cards to purchase items for his personal use.
Eaton also used his NKU credit card to purchase $32,919 in items for his personal use.
In addition, Eaton used NKU resources to print and charge $16,190 in postage for the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association, of which he was a member, Conway said. Eaton was reimbursed by MBCA but kept the money.
NKU President Geoffrey Mearns said Thursday that the university has "strengthened protocols" to prevent such a theft in the future.
Insurance is covering some of the loss, NKU has said. Last year, Mearns said the university would seek $145,000 in restitution for the cost of the university's investigation should criminal charges be filed.
Mearns fired Eaton on March 18, 2013 for unspecified violations of NKU's Code of Conduct. An internal investigation determined that Eaton had “intimate, inappropriate relationships" with four university employees, including two he supervised, and a similar relationship with a student in a class he taught.
Accusations of theft emerged a month later, and the university commissioned Dinsmore & Shohl, a Cincinnati law firm, and the accounting firm Clark Schaeffer Hackett to determine the breadth of the theft and how it was allowed to happen.
“Dinsmore and Clark determined that the principal reason that Eaton’s fraudulent conduct was not detected earlier was because he manipulated other employees to gain their trust, and then he exploited their misplaced trust,” Mearns wrote in a letter to the board in September.
He said the employees were not complicit in the misconduct but missed multiple opportunities to report or investigate it.
"No other employees deserve to be disciplined, but we all need to do better (at identifying and reporting possible misconduct)," Mearns said at the time.
Mearns said he started an investigation into Eaton on March 8, 2013, when he became aware of a pattern of possible misconduct. On March 11, additional information was received and outside counsel was hired the following day.
NKU hired Ken Bothof, formerly AD at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, in late June as the new athletic director.