Nealley and Rodriguez plead guilty, sentenced to two years in prison
Published: Thursday, June 25, 2009
Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2009 13:06
Jodie Nealley and her former co-worker Ray Rodriguez pleaded guilty on Friday to stealing close to a combined $1 million from Tufts in separate schemes.
Each received a two-year sentence in state prison, followed by five years of probation. Woburn Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin also ordered them to pay full restitution.
"The discovery last fall of the thefts by Jodie Nealley and Ray Rodriguez was a devastating blow to the university community," university spokeswoman Kim Thurler told the Daily in an e-mail. "Appropriately, justice has now been rendered."
Nealley, former director of the Office of Student Activities (OSA), stole $372,576 from student activity accounts between 2001 and 2007. Rodriguez stole $604,873 from the same funds in a separate scheme between 2005 and 2007.
"It was a harsh sentence, and obviously Ms. Nealley feels the same way," Nealley's attorney Howard Lewis told the Daily. "It will do no good for anyone or society for these people to be in jail … but it is what it is."
Nealley was immediately taken to prison from court and is currently serving in Framingham Women's Prison. "She's very upset," Lewis said.
But Nealley was anticipating going to prison immediately after the trial. Lewis had offered the court 120 days to serve immediately, "so I knew that if the judge didn't offer a stay, she was definitely going to jail," he said.
Meanwhile, Lewis added, "the co-defendant offered nothing."
Steven Goldwyn, Rodriguez's attorney, declined to comment for reasons of confidentiality.
"These two employees abused the access that they were given by the University to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars that was meant to help students," Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said in a statement. Leone had sought a three-year prison sentence for Nealley.
"We want to thank Tufts University for referring this case to our office as soon as they uncovered this scheme and then working cooperatively with us to conduct a full investigation."
Leone spokesperson Jessica Venezia declined to comment on the judge's sentence, but she said her office was satisfied with the ultimate result.
"We believe the crimes warranted state prison time and the judge clearly agreed with that," she told the Daily.
Rodriguez is alleged to have used the stolen money for concert tickets and trips to such locations as Paris and New York. Hundreds of thousands of dollars went toward luxury items from high-end designers like Gucci and Prada.
Lewis told the Daily last month that Nealley's larceny was driven by a gambling addiction. Bank records show that she used the stolen funds at locations including Omaha Steaks and Whole Foods. A majority of the money, however, went to Foxwoods Resort and Casino.
"Jodie Nealley has a disease. She is addicted to gambling," he said. "All the money went there."
Nealley emptied her personal bank accounts and borrowed money from her partner and mother to gamble, Lewis said. She also took out a home equity line of credit.
"She only took money from Tufts as a last resort because she ran out of money," Lewis said.
As part of her probation Nealley is to continue attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings indefinitely. Prior to Friday's trial, she had been attending five meetings per week, Lewis said.
In an effort to avoid jail time, during the May 8 proceedings Lewis argued for a pre-sentence investigation to determine whether a probationary sentence would be adequate.
The investigation made no recommendation, but Lewis maintains that his client was the "perfect candidate for probation."
He added that he could understand the harsher sentence, given the economic climate and particularly in the wake of the Madoff scandal.
Chubb Insurance reimbursed Tufts for over $973,000 for the thefts, but the company has a right to collect the claims from the defendants, according to Thurler. Lewis and Nealley worked with Chubb over the past year to reach a settlement of $20,000, which she has already paid to the company.
Nealley now has only Tufts' $25,000 deductible left to pay as part of the restitution. Lewis said he offered to involve Rodriguez and Goldwyn, his attorney, in negotiations with Chubb, but Goldwyn did not return his calls.
Rodriguez will have to pay back over $600,000 in restitution within five years of being released from prison.
Lewis said Rodriguez' attorney had "set him up to fail," adding that Rodriguez will likely be in jail again if he cannot meet the payments.
Though Rodriguez stole significantly more than Nealley, Lewis said he was not surprised that they received the same sentence.
Nina Ford contributed reporting to this article.