Ex-Bethany employee claiming extortion

Former Bethany College employee Shelly Lough allegedly told law enforcement she embezzled more than $500,000 from the school to pay two individuals who threatened to reveal sexually explicit photos of her.

Lough, 46, of Wheeling turned herself in at the Brooke County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday. Magistrate Linda Viderman arraigned her on charges of embezzlement and falsifying accounts. Lough posted $5,000 bond at court and was released.

In a Sept. 1 interview with a sheriff’s deputy, “Lough confessed to taking thousands of dollars of Bethany College’s money, and giving it to two other individuals” between July 2011 and May, court filings state.

“Miss Lough stated that she was extorted by these two individuals, as they had in their possession, photos and text messages that were sexually explicit in nature, and threatened to provide the said texts and photos to Miss Lough’s husband if she did not pay their cash demands,” the complaint states.

Brooke County Prosecutor Joe Barki said two Ohio residents also are targeted in the investigation. It is not known if the investigation into those two suspects will be completed by the Nov. 4 grand jury.

The alleged embezzlement is suspected to be a part of a larger criminal operation, Barki said.

Lough was employed at the college’s cashier’s office, and according to court filings, was solely responsible for the cash window, where students and staff cashed payroll and personal checks. She allegedly stole cash from the office, then falsified accounts to hide the thefts. The college discovered the missing money in May during an external audit.

College officials suspected Lough and moved her to another position in the finance department, said Bethany Vice President Sven de Jong. She continued to work, but did not have access to cash or financial accounts.

Lough immediately was fired after she confessed to the thefts in an interview with the school’s legal counsel and outside accountants, de Jong said.