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Former UH Foundation employee pleads guilty to diverting scholarship to bookie

By Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 9:58 p.m. HST, Jun 6, 2014

A former University of Hawaii Foundation employee pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to identity theft after acknowledging that he diverted scholarship money to pay off a gambling debt.

Dodge Watson, 34, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Sept. 15.

According to Watson's attorney Eric Seitz, Watson diverted $2,000 from an existing UH scholarship to a bookie to whom he owed money. The unauthorized transaction occurred in December 2012, while Watson was working as a scholarship administrator for the private, nonprofit corporation that serves as the central fundraising organization for the UH system.

Watson, who worked for the foundation for eight years, will repay the foundation once the proper mechanism for repayment has been identified, Seitz said.

Seitz said Watson incurred the debt through sports gambling.

"He did what many here in Hawaii do, and he won't do it again," Seitz said.

Seitz added that Watson's criminal act exposed a vulnerability in the foundation's practices that has since been addressed.

"It was a one-time incident and he is sorry," Seitz said. "This has been extremely embarrassing for him and his family."

In a statement released on behalf of Watson's family on Friday evening, Watson's sister Trisha said that Watson had developed a gambling problem over the last decade and that his current legal situation arose from poor decisions he had made as the problem worsened.

"I am deeply disappointed in my brother, but I am proud that he has accepted full responsibility for his actions," Trisha Watson stated. " On behalf of our family, we are deeply sorry for his misconduct.  There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior.  Any statements that have been made that may be perceived as an effort to minimize or otherwise justify his behavior are not reflective of our unified position as a family.  

"We would like to, in particular, express our deepest remorse to the University of Hawai'i community whose trust in our family was inexcusably violated," she continued. "We are grateful that the incident was isolated, contained, and appropriately addressed with immediate and corrective action."

In 2010, Watson's father and his four siblings worked with the foundation to establish the Jackie and Walter O. Watson Jr., Memorial Scholarship Endowment, in honor of their parents, to provide scholarships to eligible UH football players.

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