Former Central Michigan University psychology professor Justin Oh-Lee entered a no contest plea Monday at the Isabella Trial Court.
Accused of taking money for false research studies, Oh-Lee is facing a single charge of embezzlement between $1,000 and $20,000.
Oh-Lee appeared in court with Defense Attorney Joe Barberi, and requested a 12-month prosecutorial delay, in hopes of reducing the charge, and avoiding any “possible civil ramifications.” The deal, Barberi said, was in the works for months and was finalized last week.
“There is the possibility of a civil litigation,” Barberi said. “We don’t think it will be an issue, but it could be. There has to be a reason given (for the plea).”
Trial Court Judge Mark Duthie said the current felony embezzlement charge could result in five years incarceration and a $10,000 fine. Instead of asking Oh-Lee to describe his crimes, Duthie reviewed an affidavit before the proceedings.
“I’m satisfied in my own mind that there is a factual basis to conclude that you are guilty,” Duthie said. “I will treat this as a plea of guilty for sentencing purposes. You made the plea in a voluntary manner. It was knowingly made.”
According to Isabella County Principal Trial Attorney Mark Kowalczyk, a successful completion of the delay will result in lowering the charge to attempted larceny, a high-court misdemeanor.
“If he successfully completes the delay, and remains crime-free, then the charge will be reduced to attempted larceny,” Kowalczyk said.
Duthie reminded Oh-Lee he must comply with the requirements of his probation, in order for the charge to be lowered.
“Whenever I get one of these pleas, success means not violating probation,” Duthie said. “Since you’re going to end up with a high-court misdemeanor, jail is in play.”
Oh-Lee’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m. on Dec. 9. He is out on bond until sentenced, and will begin probation following the sentencing. Duthie said he is taking the plea under advisement until the next hearing.
Oh-Lee resigned from teaching at CMU before the Fall 2013 semester. Barberi said last spring restitution was paid to the university for Oh-Lee’s crimes.
“It’s a classic example of how good people can make mistakes,” Barberi said. “He is very remorseful. I think the prosecution recognized that Oh-Lee has had an exemplary life. He’s never had any kind of problems before.”
Barberi said Oh-Lee has been looking into counseling since last year.
“(Oh-Lee) has been voluntarily examining resources for why this happened,” Barberi said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, but Dr. Oh-Lee has stepped up to the plate.”
Director of Public Relations Steve Smith confirmed Oh-Lee resigned, and was on leave at the start of the semester.
“(He resigned) before the semester began,” Smith said. “I do know they they put him on leave because of what had happened.”
Metro Editor Tony Wittkowski contributed to this article.