Ex-AD pleads guilty to stealing from Ky. college

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Former Northern Kentucky University athletic director Scott Eaton pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing more than $300,000 from the school during a six-year scheme that included taking gift cards meant to help feed student-athletes, the state’s attorney general said.

Eaton, 50, who supervised the school’s expansion into Division I athletics, pleaded guilty in Campbell Circuit Court to one count of theft by unlawful taking, Attorney General Jack Conway said. Eaton agreed to serve the maximum term of 10 years in prison and repay $311,215 to the school.

”At a time when higher education institutions are being asked to accomplish more with smaller tuition increases and declining state funding, the unconscionable behavior by Mr. Eaton is completely unacceptable,” Conway said at a press conference at the school in Highland Heights, Ky.

”And I think the punishment fits this crime,” he said.

University President Geoffrey Mearns said the guilty plea ”brings closure to an unfortunate but very isolated incident” at the school.

Eaton’s sentencing was set for May 20. He will be eligible for a parole board hearing after serving two years of the sentence.

Defense attorney Benjamin Dusing said Thursday that Eaton had taken responsibility for his actions. Eaton ”apologizes for the harm he has caused to all those affected and particularly to NKU, the institution to which he devoted 15 years and made significant contributions,” his attorney said.

Eaton was named the school’s athletic director in 2009 and prior to that had been senior associate athletic director for administration, a school spokesman said. Eaton was making $139,957 as athletic director.

Eaton was fired by the college’s president last year over improper relationships with female employees and a student.

The school then hired an outside firm to audit the athletic department’s accounts, which eventually led to the theft charge.

”We didn’t have any evidence at that point of any embezzlement, but my instincts told me that if you can’t be trusted with respect to your conduct in terms of personal relationships, I can’t trust you with respect to the resources that you are responsible for,” Mearns said.

Eaton used several schemes from 2007 to March 2013 to steal money from the university, Conway said.

The bulk of the stolen money came from a scheme in which Eaton used his NKU-issued credit card to purchase Kroger gift cards, the attorney general said. Those cards were meant to help feed student-athletes, but Eaton used them to purchase items for his own use, Conway said.

Eaton also purchased personal items on that credit card, Conway said.

In another scheme, Eaton used university resources to print and charge postage for items related to an out-of-state coaches association to which he belonged. When Eaton was reimbursed for those costs, he kept the money rather than returning it to the school, Conway said.

Mearns said the school has since strengthened its safeguards for procurement cards and other financial activities.

The school hired a new permanent athletic director, Ken Bothof, last June. The school is a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference.