Ohio couple plead guilty to extorting $1 million from former Bethany College cashier

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An Ohio woman reported to jail Monday after she and her husband admitted that they extorted $1 million from a former Bethany College cashier in a bizarre blackmail scheme centered on a clandestine online affair.

Rachaelle Weese, 26, and her husband, Jason Weese, 31, both from East Liverpool, pleaded guilty last week in federal court to blackmailing Shelly Lough, who stole the money from her employer to meet their demands in order to keep her relationship with Mr. Weese a secret from her husband.

Ms. Lough, 46, of Wheeling, W.Va., admitted in state court that she embezzled the cash to pay off the Weeses, and she would have been the government’s main witness had they elected to go to trial. Ms. Lough’s husband and Rachaelle Weese’s sister also would have been witnesses.

The case has its origins in a text message that Mr. Weese mistakenly sent to Ms. Lough in 2011. William Ihlenfeld, the U.S. attorney in Wheeling, said it was a random message, but she responded. Eventually, the two began exchanging explicit messages and pictures of their body parts.

The relationship never became physical, but after Ms. Lough broke it off in October 2012, the Weeses began to threaten her and demand payments, prosecutors said.

The extortion was Mr. Weese’s idea, but Mrs. Weese went along with it and enjoyed the proceeds, prosecutors said.

Ms. Lough, who had access to cash directly from the bank, stole thousands at a time and met with Mr. Weese regularly to make the transactions at Bethany College and a couple of times at a local McDonald’s.

Ms. Lough kept making the payments until she lost her job at the college. When she couldn’t pay anymore, Mr. Weese threatened to burn down her house, according to the FBI.

Mr. and Mrs. Weese each pleaded to a count of extortion. Mr. Weese also pleaded guilty to laundering money in connection with a 2013 Chevy Camaro that he bought with some of the cash he received from the scheme.

The couple also admitted that they used stolen money to buy a 2013 Mitsubishi sport utility vehicle, a 2013 Honda ATV and “large amounts of prescription drugs,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.

As part of their plea, the Weeses were ordered to make full restitution to Bethany College. Some of that money will come from liquidation of assets that the couple bought with the stolen money.

A federal judge on Friday revoked Mrs. Weese’s bond and ordered her to self-report to jail Monday while she awaits her sentence. Mr. Weese remains free pending sentencing.

Ms. Lough was prosecuted on state charges of embezzlement and falsification of records and admitted that she stole $1,038,000 from Bethany. She is serving 2 to 20 years.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published June 24, 2014 12:00 AM

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