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Former SNHU official sentenced in million-dollar embezzlement scheme

A former finance official at Southern New Hampshire University was sentenced yesterday to 7½ to 15 years in prison for embezzling more than a million dollars from the school, one of the largest such thefts in recent state history.

Under a deal announced earlier this month with prosecutors, Raymond Prouty, 58, pleaded guilty in Merrimack County Superior Court to two felony counts of theft by deception and unauthorized taking. Authorities said Prouty began siphoning the cash in 1998, when he was an associate athletic director at the Hooksett college, and continued to do so until his firing as budget director in 2012.

His total haul: $1,157,252.24.

The money was used to pay personal debts and other expenses, including donations to charitable groups, family members and friends. Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said Prouty gave $95,000 to the Hooksett Kiwanis Club, where he was a member, and created pseudo-scholarships for his two nieces, both SNHU students.

In one scheme, Prouty created a dummy corporation called Only the Best OPS and diverted more than $500,000 to it, Ward said. The business, listed under a Hooksett mailing address, existed ostensibly to pay officials who worked SNHU sporting events. Ward said some of the money was used to that end, but that the majority, about $375,000, went toward bank loans, a Florida resort, a pool company and Prouty’s father.

Ward said there was no evidence that the benefactors, including Prouty’s wife, who is an SNHU employee, knew of the crimes. He said the thefts surfaced in May 2012 when the dean of students noted a discrepancy between the proposed and approved scholarship budgets. School officials later determined that Prouty had added a scholarship for his niece.

Ward said Prouty had fully cooperated with the state’s investigation, even agreeing to a taped interview in 2012, during which he admitted to the offenses. He offered no clear motive at that time, telling investigators, “It just started, and somehow it just escalated.”

Prouty declined to comment yesterday during the hearing. Dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, he sat quietly as Ward ticked through the offenses, his head dipped. His attorney, Michael Ramsdell, said he was “remorseful.”

Prouty could have received up to 30 years under the charges. As part of the plea agreement, he received a second, fully suspended 7½- to 15-year sentence, and will pay full restitution, including an immediate $125,000 payment.

Ward said the sentence was “on the upper end,” but said he had found only one other such scheme that exceeded Prouty’s dollar amount. But he said the state was not pushing for more because Prouty had been so cooperative and had set out a “realistic” restitution plan.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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