A former University of Minnesota employee described by a judge as a "rising star" at the school was sentenced Wednesday to eight years' probation for stealing more than $100,000 from the university.
Michael J. McDaniel, 35, of Lilydale, apologized in court before he was sentenced, and said he missed his former job at the university "every day." He was working at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research when he committed the crimes to fuel his gambling addiction. He was fired in November 2018.
"I wish I would've realized sooner the issues I had going on…," McDaniel said, adding that he is undergoing debt management counseling, treatment for gambling and hasn't set foot in a casino since February.
McDaniel pleaded guilty in June to two counts of theft by swindle. He used university money to buy 78 computers through the U bookstores for his department from September 2017 to August 2018. He resold them, pocketing more than $125,000 in profits.
When he was confronted about the crimes, McDaniel concocted a bizarre story about being assaulted at gunpoint on campus by three men who coerced him into making the purchases.
"This is a young man who has been living a lie for years," Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Susan Crumb said before sentencing. "It's time for sunshine. It's time for clean air."
Crumb urged Hennepin County District Judge Martha Holton Dimick to sentence McDaniel to six months in the county workhouse and electronic home monitoring in addition to the probation. She expressed concern that McDaniel's current employer, a chiropractic clinic, was not aware of his criminal case.
Crumb said that although McDaniel feared losing his job if his employer learned of the crimes, the employer should be notified because McDaniel has access to clients' financial information.
Crumb also requested that McDaniel pay $134,544 in restitution to the university, which did not request prison time for McDaniel.
McDaniel's attorney, Judith Samson, said her client has taken steps to address his crimes and rehabilitate himself through counseling and Gambler's Anonymous meetings, among other steps that were mandated by the court.
"He was forthcoming and accepting of his responsibility," Samson said. "He's doing everything he can possibly do …"
Samson asked for 10 days in the county workhouse, noting that the case was essentially McDaniel's first offense. (He previously pleaded guilty in a companion case for buying iPads from Target and returning empty boxes for a total of $6,000.)
In addition to probation, Holton Dimick sentenced McDaniel to three months in the county workhouse with furloughs for work, treatment and school, and nine months on electronic home monitoring. He will have to serve 2 1/4 years in prison if he violates the terms of his probation.
He was also ordered to pay full restitution to the university.
"You were a rising star at the University of Minnesota," Holton Dimick told him. "Now, for the rest of your life you're going to have to deal with this."
The judge agreed with Crumb about alerting McDaniel's employer of his criminal status.
"This is your new reality," the judge said, adding that some employers will never hire McDaniel despite his treatment and counseling.
McDaniel, who is out of custody, will turn himself in Sept. 6.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708