Updated 3:44 p.m.
A Federal Trade Commission employee pleaded guilty this week in Washington federal district court to stealing more than $218,000 from the agency in unauthorized purchases of electronics.
The defendant, Harold Hughes, a clerk who ordered office supplies, pleaded guilty to theft Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Richard Leon set sentencing for July 13. Hughes, 58, faces up to ten years in prison. He is on administrative leave from the commission.
Prosecutors alleged Hughes used FTC money to buy laptop computers, DVD players and televisions. Hughes, according to the government, kept for personal use some of the electronics and sold the bulk of the items for below-retail price.
Prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Seeley, said Hughes initially shipped the electronics to the FTC headquarters. Later, he is accused of ordering the delivery of electronics to his house in Virginia. The total loss to the FTC was about $218,636.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said Hughes, a supply clerk from February 2009 to December 2010, has agreed to pay full restitution to the government.
Hughes' supervisors reported suspicious activity to the FTC Inspector General's office, which began examining invoices and shipping records. One of the things that caught the eye of the supervisors was a FedEx damage claim Hughes filed on a shipment overseas, said Cynthia Hogue, chief investigator and counsel to Inspector General John Seeba. Hughes needed a supervisor to cash a check for him.
Hogue said it didn't take long to unravel the scheme. "We knew something was amiss," she said. Hughes was sending packages to apartments and houses and private businesses. Recipients of the electronics included FTC employees and contract workers. The IG has an ongoing investigation, and some employees are on leave and some contractors have been removed, Hogue said.
Hughes took steps to hide his actions, Hogue said. But if supervisors had been more probing of purchase card statements, "this would have been uncovered sooner," Hogue said this afternoon. Hogue said there was only "cursory oversight" of Hughes.
Hughes’ court-appointed attorney, Nathan Silver II, a solo practitioner in Bethesda, said this afternoon that "Mr. Hughes took responsibility for his conduct" while working at the commission.