The former deputy director of Michigan Public Media – the University’s public radio and television ventures – pled no contest Thursday to a misdemeanor charge of embezzlement involving the Michigan Radio station WUOM.
Pleading no contest is a way to avoid trial without admitting guilt or claiming innocence.
In conjunction with an investigation into alleged criminal activity of WUOM employees, Michael Coleman was accused of embezzling thousands of company dollars and taking food, alcohol, airline tickets and lodging for personal use.
Thomas O’Brien, Coleman’s attorney, said the prosecution offered Coleman the opportunity to resolve his case by pleading to a misdemeanor charge of embezzlement of funds less than $200.
Coleman now faces a possible jail sentence of up to 93 days, two year’s probation and a fine of up to three times the amount embezzled, or $600. Sentencing is scheduled for June 22.
Coleman originally pled not guilty when charged with embezzling between $1,000 and $20,000 in company funds – a felony that carries a prison sentence of one to five years as well as a possible fine of up to $60,000.
Coleman also agreed to pay the University $3,500 in restitution for charges he made at local restaurants over several years, O’Brien said.
O’Brien said Coleman considered the plea a reasonable way to put the situation behind him.
“What he ended up with is one of the most minor crimes recognized in Michigan,” O’Brien said.
Deputy chief assistant prosecutor of Washtenaw County Steve Hiller said numerous factors are considered when offering plea agreements, including the strength of the case and the likely punishment.
“In a case like this, it’s unlikely that a defendant charged with this kind of crime will receive a non-probationary sentence,” Hiller said. “If we can in those situations, we look to resolve the case and nail down restitution so we aren’t fighting about that in the future.”
Coleman is the second of three former Michigan Public Media employees to plead no contest to charges involving embezzlement.
Former development director Justin Ebright – who pled no contest to one count of embezzlement less than $20,000 in April – also appeared in court Thursday receiving two years probation, $10,000 restitution and 50 hours of community service.
Jeremy Nordquist, the third defendant, maintains that any misconduct during his time as an account executive transpired with knowledge of his supervisors. He has not been offered a plea agreement and faces trial in July under charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to embezzle.
Coleman left his job with Michigan Public Media last summer to assume the position of general manager of Detroit Public Radio station WDET, a public service of Wayne State University.
“It’s welcome news that Michael has successfully resolved this situation with the University of Michigan,” said WSU’s interim executive vice-president Louis Lessem in a statement following Coleman’s trial.
“We are looking forward to continuing the momentum we are seeing at WDET under Michael’s leadership,” Lessem said.
The men’s arrests resulted from a criminal investigation by the University’s Department of Public Safety, which began in November after former Michigan Public Media director Donovan Reynolds notified the DPS of suspicious activity involving the on-air recognition of sponsors.
Reynolds resigned from the position Mar. 1.
University officials, including Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow, DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown and President Mary Sue Coleman, denounced the criminal behavior and pledged to monitor the full compliance of policies by Michigan Public Media staff.
“We are especially proud of Michigan Radio’s contributions to informed public dialogue in our state.