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Nealley to plead guilty to embezzlement Friday

Published: Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 21:05


Matt Skibinski/Tufts Daily

Former OSA Director Jodie Nealley leaves the courthouse accompanied by her lawyer, Howard Lewis, after her Aug. 12 arraignment. Nealley entered a plea of not guilty.

Former Office of Student Activities (OSA) Director Jodie Nealley was driven by a gambling addiction as she embezzled more than $300,000 from Tufts, her attorney told the Daily today.

Nealley will plead guilty on Friday to larceny charges, closing a chapter in a scandal that has reverberated throughout the campus since 2007.

"This is part of a healing process for her," Attorney Howard Lewis said of the plea. "She wants to begin the process of … making amends to her family and to all parties harmed by her gambling addiction."

Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler declined to comment on Nealley's decision, noting that the university will release a statement during Friday's proceedings, which will take place at 2 p.m. at the Middlesex County Superior Court in Woburn.

Previously, Lewis, of the Framingham firm Lewis & Leeper, LLC,  had not publicly offered an explanation for Nealley's activities, other than to say that his client was pursuing an affirmative defense that would hold that her actions were excusable by reason of an unnamed factor.

But in announcing the change of plea, Lewis said that Nealley's compulsive casino visits drove her into debt over the years, and that she turned to Tufts accounts for money to feed her habit.

"Cash was necessary to gamble. She didn't want goods. She didn't want property. She's a gambling addict," Lewis said. "Unfortunately, Ms. Nealley has nothing to show for what she did except debt. She didn't do it for any other reason except for the disease."

According to Lewis, Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone's office is seeking three years of incarceration for Nealley. Leone spokesperson Jessica Venezia would not comment on her office's position on sentencing.

Lewis is hoping the court will grant Nealley probation rather than time behind bars. Sentencing could occur as early as Friday, but Lewis expects a final decision to be held off until another court date, possibly next week.

While he feels that a three-year prison term would be too much, Lewis conceded that his argument may not garner very much sympathy.

"Unfortunately, in light of the world and in light of the situations like the [Bernard] Madoff scandal and in light of the economy, this is a very difficult time to be talking about excessive fines and penalties for theft," he said.

Nealley was fired from Tufts in 2007 after an audit turned up evidence that she had misappropriated funds.

Further investigation also unearthed transactions implicating her former OSA coworker Ray Rodriguez, who served as the office's budget and fiscal coordinator and allegedly embezzled over $600,000 from the university.

Both Nealley and Rodriguez were indicted on larceny charges in July and pled not guilty at an August arraignment.

Rodriguez's lawyer, Steven Goldwyn of the law firm Altman and Altman, LLP, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Meanwhile, Venezia would not comment on whether or not Rodriguez also plans to change his plea on Friday.

But Lewis had harsh words for Rodriguez, who he insinuated was motivated solely by greed. "There doesn't appear to be any reason or rationale for what he did," Lewis said.

Rodriguez is charged with spending the $604,873 he allegedly took from Tufts on trips, concert tickets and luxury goods from stores such as Gucci, Hermes, Coach and Prada. "He must have bought an awful lot of clothes," Lewis said.

Meanwhile, Nealley had been accused of funneling $372,576 to locations ranging from IKEA to Omaha Steaks and Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Still, even as he admitted Nealley's guilt, Lewis denied that his client spent stolen money on anything other than gambling.

"Unfortunately, those allegations aren't true, but in the scope of things, it's difficult to disprove," he said.

According to Lewis, Nealley is currently working at Zen Massage Center, a Wayland business owned by her spouse, Charnan Bray. Nealley is also attending private counseling sessions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

"She's been going through counseling," Lewis said. "She wants to accept responsibility for her actions."

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