CHICAGO (STMW) — An honored, former Naperville police commander who became chief of the Edwardsville Police Department was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison, after being convicted of embezzling nearly $140,000 from that downstate city’s coffers to bankroll what he said was a gambling addiction, the Naperville Sun is reporting.

James S. Bedell served 23 years as a Naperville police officer and once helped build a clinic and homes in Central America following a hurricane there. The 57-year-old Bedell formerly lived in Plainfield, and served five years as Edwardsville’s chief of police.

Defense attorney John P. Rogers said Bedell will be assigned to a minimum-security facility by officials of the federal bureau of prisons.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Reagan used “the low end of the sentencing guidelines” in meting Bedell’s penalty, Rogers said Thursday. Rogers said he believed the judge did so “in recognition of (Bedell’s) outstanding career and service to the community.”

Bedell resigned as chief on Oct. 5, after coming under scrutiny by the FBI and Illinois State Police.

He was ultimately charged with four counts of embezzlement and theft from the city of Edwardsville, crimes that occurred between July 2009 and September 2012. He pleaded guilty April 17 to all four counts.

Authorities said Bedell admitted that, as chief, he “removed cash and money orders from a lockbox in the police department that contained vehicle impound fees.” Edwardsville assesses $300 vehicle towing charges following certain traffic violations and other crimes, fees that must be paid in cash or with money orders.

Bedell admitted he used at least some of the money “to support a gambling habit,” which last year included $40,000 in losses, according to court documents. The FBI and state police contended the embezzled money totaled $136,800, a figure Bedell disputed.

U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton, in a prepared statement, said Bedell has been ordered to make restitution and spend three years on supervised release following completion of his prison term.

“I am always saddened when a member of law enforcement is found to be engaged in illegal acts,” Wigginton said Thursday. “I urge the public to remember that the vast majority of our men and women in blue are extremely honest, bright and capable, and that they put on their uniforms each day to serve the citizens …”

Bedell bested 64 other applicants to become Edwardsville’s director of police in September 2007, following a search and candidate evaluation conducted by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police.

A Downers Grove native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Governors State University in south suburban University Park.

After joining the Naperville force, Bedell was promoted in 2004 to the rank of lieutenant, a title that was retired three years later in favor of commander. He also oversaw the city of Naperville’s major event-planning between 2000 and 2007.

Bedell in 2006 earned an award from CAPS, Naperville’s Citizens Appreciate Public Safety organization. He was saluted for traveling with parishioners of three local churches to the village of Montenaula, Honduras, where they built a medical clinic and new homes.

Montenaula “lost about 98 percent of its housing when Hurricane Mitch came through in 1998,” Bedell said in 2006. “Twice a year, 20 to 40 people from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Aurora, Naperville Evangelical Covenant Church and Trinity Lutheran Church in Burr Ridge go there to help. So far, we have built about 60 homes.”

Bedell, when asked why he gave up vacation time to do such work, said it gave him “an opportunity to do something for people. It is giving back to people who have far less than we have.”

In an interview with The Sun prior to leaving Naperville, Bedell expressed his excitement over the move to Edwardsville.

“It’s a new challenge in my career and it’s a good opportunity for me,” Bedell said in 2007. “But I would always be sad to leave (Naperville). Everybody’s been great to me throughout my career.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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