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Former NW Indiana School Official Admits Embezzlement

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HAMMOND, Ind. (STMW) – The former business manager for Lake Ridge Schools in Northwest Indiana is admitting he embezzled more than $134,000 from the school district during the same time it had to close an elementary school because of a $1.7 million budget shortfall.

Along with the theft charge, James Huddleston, 41, of DeMotte, Ind., will also plead guilty to one count of tax evasion for not reporting that money as part of his federal income taxes, according to a plea agreement filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Hammond.

Huddleston faces up to 10 years in prison on the theft count and up to five years on the tax evasion count. However, as part of the agreement, federal attorneys will ask he serve the minimum of whatever range federal sentencing guidelines recommend.

Huddleston says in the agreement that he embezzled $134,054 from the district from January 2012 until April 2013 by opening and controlling an account under the district’s name with Tech Credit Union. He then withdrew $133,000 of that money and used it on personal expenses.

He took $92,453 of the money during 2012, which he then did not report on his federal income taxes for that year.

Huddleston has agreed to pay restitution in an amount to be determined at his sentencing to the school district and the IRS.

A change of plea hearing is set for May 6.

Huddleston resigned from the district a year ago, which district officials said was because of personal financial reasons. However, they also said they would begin a review of the district’s finances.

Audits revealed that Huddleston created the Tech Credit account in September 2011 and used the money to pay various personal bills.

The audits came shortly after Lake Ridge decided to close Grissom Elementary School because of a $1.7 million budget deficit.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)