A former UW-Madison employee who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from the university’s housing division was sentenced Friday to six years probation and eight months in jail, though the judge presiding over the case said he expected a recommendation of prison time from the Dane County District Attorney’s Office.
Kevin O’Donnell, 53, stole more than $100,000 from the university between July 2014 and February 2017, according to a criminal complaint. He was fired in March 2017 after the thefts were uncovered.
O’Donnell’s “breathtaking breach of trust at every single level” led Dane County Circuit Judge William Hanrahan to assume the state would recommend prison time.
But Dane County Assistant District Attorney Paul Humphrey and O’Donnell’s attorney, Michael Short, jointly recommended 12 years probation and eight months of jail time, which would be served in the Dane County Jail rather than the state prison system.
“This is a large embezzlement,” Humphrey said. “He was an insider … and abused the trust in that position.”
Both Humphrey and Short said O’Donnell had no prior criminal record.
Short added that O’Donnell was a 26-year Army veteran.
“There’s really no excuse for his behavior and he knows that,” Short said.
Hanrahan said a 12-year probation would amount to “glorified babysitting” that would cost taxpayers, so he reduced the probation period to six years.
In court, O’Donnell said he had “deep regret” over his actions and that his employment with the university came after a period of unemployment and increasing debt .
O’Donnell was convicted last month of two counts of theft of property worth more than $10,000, two counts of theft of property worth between $5,000 and $10,000 and two counts of forgery, as well as identity theft and theft of property worth between $2,500 and $5,000.
O’Donnell was a purchasing manager for the Division of University Housing and used fake companies, cashing fraudulent checks and making personal purchases to funnel nearly $114,000 to himself over the 2½-year period, tactics that Hanrahan said showed a “level of sophistication” to his “greed.”
A restitution hearing that will determine how much O’Donnell must pay back to the university will take place in about a month. The amount is in dispute because, according to Short, some of the transactions listed in the complaint were not ones fraudulently made by O’Donnell.
O’Donnell’s actions prompted UW-Madison’s housing division to conduct a $45,000 financial review that led to several changes in its practices. The division developed a new database to better track its university-issued credit cards, will regularly conduct reviews on who is allowed to use an internal product purchasing system and provided more oversight on how staff verify refunds for students of university housing.
The Division of University Housing operates the residence halls, dining area and apartment buildings on campus.