UW-Madison employee accused of bilking more than $100K from department

UW-Madison employee accused of bilking more than $100K from department

A University of Wisconsin-Madison employee is accused of stealing more than $100,000 in money and goods over about three years, according to a document filed in Dane County court.

Kevin M. O’Donnell, 54, of Madison, is facing 14 counts, many of them felonies, in connection with accusations regarding several fraud schemes he committed while working as a financial specialist with the UW-Madison Student Housing Department. He told officials he took the money to pay bills and because he was going through a divorce at the time, according to court documents.

“The behavior in this case is deeply concerning to us and is not representative of the Housing Division and its employees,” UW Housing Director Jeff Novak told News 3 in a written statement Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that the actions of one individual will reflect poorly on the rest of our employees, who are conscientious, hardworking and care deeply about this university.”

O’Donnell is scheduled for a final pre-trial in the case at 8:30 a.m. Friday, according to court records.

A criminal complaint filed March 6 details several ways in which O’Donnell took money from the university, including issuing fraudulent checks that he signed over to himself, using a work purchasing card to pay his personal business, and buying items for his own use using UW cards and accounts.

According to the complaint, O’Donnell was hired in January 2013, and the earliest record of alleged fraud began in 2014, when he used a UW account to buy items that weren’t for work use. He used the system to buy a home theater system, GPS systems, computer and related equipment, tools, jackets and other miscellaneous items over more than two years.

Alleged housing refund-check scheme

O’Donnell is accused of issuing 74 checks in UW students’ names, then signing the checks over to himself as the payee. He cashed checks worth a total of $38,630.81 between June 11, 2015 and Aug. 30, 2016.

O’Donnell reportedly confessed to a detective investigating alleged the embezzlement in August at a meeting. The complaint said he told the detective he often chose foreign students because they were most likely to have left the United States. He reportedly told the officer he knew it was wrong.

O’Donnell is also accused of fraudulently issuing several other checks to friends who cashed them. The value of the 11 checks between Jan 13, 2015 and April 14, 2016 was $5,105.16. He told police he made the fraudulent checks for them because he felt sorry for them, as they were homeless and needed the money.

Confronted with TV thefts, he allegedly says ‘I’ve never done anything like this before’

O’Donnell also admitted to stealing six used TVs in February 2017. The TVs were being replaced by newer sets in residence halls, and the used ones were supposed to be transferred to the UW SWAP surplus store in Verona, but O’Donnell said he took them home.

According to the complaint, O’Donnell told the investigator: “I know it was wrong to take the TVs” and “when I took them and got them home, I thought I might get into trouble. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve never stolen anything ever.”

The TVs were valued at $180, police said.

Email address ties O’Donnell to fake furniture buys, police say

In his position as a financial specialist, O’Donnell was also issued a purchasing card for UW Housing business purchases. Police said he used his card to make 14 fraudulent purchases, and he used a card issued to a colleague to make 53 unapproved charges from January 2016 through February 2017.

O’Donnell told police 14 of the 67 charges were requested by UW employees, but he reportedly admitted to making 53 unapproved charges totaling $11,468.18.

According to the complaint, O’Donnell also admitted to using his work purchase card to pay himself through businesses he owns, Global Services and Global Information Services, multiple times for a total of $48,409.39. O’Donnell claimed the purchases were for furniture, but police said the companies are tied to O’Donnell through his PayPal account and email address.

Among the items O’Donnell is accused of buying for his own use with his card at stores like Menards, Walmart and from Amazon are bedroom furniture, knives, kitchenware, tools, security camera system, miter saw, rental truck services, water heater, counter top and more. He also reportedly used his work purchase card to pay his personal cable bill for $1,173.

According to the complaint, O’Donnell “expressed regret” and “stated he is sorry for this and it was wrong to make the fraudulent transactions. O’Donnell stated he stole the money to pay bills, pay the mortgage on his house” and that he was going through a difficult divorce when he took the money.

In total, the complaint says O’Donnell admitted to embezzling $108,419.74 of the $113,890.59 he’s accused of taking.

Novak said in a statement that since the embezzlement investigation, the University Housing and the Division of Business Services hired an outside firm to review all related business practices and help establish new financial controls “in hope of preventing these kinds of abuses in the future.”