A former business manager at the University of Kentucky admitted Friday that he stole equipment, and he agreed to pay nearly $300,000 in restitution.
Steven Ellis pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement. The top sentence on the charge is 10 years in prison, although Ellis’ sentence will likely be considerably lower under federal guidelines.
Ellis was a business manager in the physics and astronomy department, and his duties included ordering equipment. He took surplus equipment that belonged to UK and sold it on eBay, court records say.
For instance, UK alleged in a report that Ellis used the school’s money to buy hundreds of multimeters, which measure electric currents, and sold more than 300 on his eBay account for $49,856.
Ellis’ plea involved only acts between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, because the federal law covers one-year periods, but Ellis stipulated that he committed offenses in other years as well, according to his plea agreement.
A court document said the loss to UK was $137,662. UK said in a report last year that Ellis also misappropriated $87,000 in royalty revenue.
The royalties were from lab manuals Ellis had written and published through an outside vendor. UK alleged that Ellis had made his students buy his manuals and therefore was required to donate the royalties to the school, but that Ellis kept the money.
Ellis agreed to pay $299,603 in restitution to UK to cover the cost of the stolen equipment, the royalties and an audit, his plea said.
UK said its police and auditors began investigating Ellis after another employee reported suspicions about him. The university fired Ellis in September 2015 and turned over the results of its investigation to federal authorities.
The report from UK said Ellis started working there in July 1995 as an instructional lab specialist and later held a variety of jobs, including academic coordinator and information technology manager.
He also taught undergraduate labs, supervised teaching assistants, and stocked and maintained the equipment inventory for the physics labs, according to the report.
Ellis’ attorney, Fred E. Peters, said Ellis is remorseful for his actions and that he and his family will make full restitution before he is sentenced.
“This is a sad ending for a man who had a very good military and academic career up till now,” Peters said.
U.S. District Judge Danny C Reeves scheduled sentencing for May 19.