COVINGTON - Former Dayton Independent Schools superintendent William "Gary" Rye was sentenced to two years in federal prison Tuesday for embezzling nearly $200,000 from the school district he led for more than a decade. He must report to prison June 2.
Rye, 66, appeared before U.S. District Judge David Bunning in Covington. His wife and a small group of supporters sat behind him.
Rye apologized to his family "for the shame I've brought them" and to the school district "for the time and effort I've taken from them that they could have been giving to their students."
He declined to comment after the hearing.
The maximum sentence for the embezzling charge is 10 years, but the recommended range, according to federal sentencing guidelines, was 18-24 months based on the amount of Rye's theft. Bunning chose the high end of that spectrum.
"Ultimately, it's important to send the appropriate message that this type of conduct is not going to be tolerated," he said. "Your actions had a profound impact on the school system for a number of years."
Bunning said Rye's embezzlement was "devastating" for the tiny, financially struggling district. A lesser sentence, he said, would have been a "slap on the wrist."
Rye will likely serve the sentence in a minimum security facility in Mobile, Ala., or Pensacola, Fla., the judge said.
Rye pleaded guilty in December to one count of embezzlement. According to federal documents, Rye stole $193,149.22 from 2004-2012 while he was superintendent. An investigation by State Auditor Adam Edelen later found that amount was closer to $500,000.
Rye has already repaid the $193,149.22. He will repay the rest, nearly $300,000, in annual installments as part of a civil settlement.
Rye's lawyers had asked for leniency. "There is more to him than this incident," said attorney Jon Alig, stressing that Rye had no prior criminal record and has repaid the money and given up his teaching license. "He's tried everything humanly possible to rectify this."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Voorhees, however, noted that Rye had "systematically drained this district" for eight years. The theft came as the 834-student district was struggling financially and academically.
She read portions of letters her office had received detailing how the theft had affected the district's students. The writers said Rye had deprived students of needed supplies and equipment. They called him a bully and asked for the maximum sentence.
Rye retired as superintendent in June 2012. The Kentucky Department of Education had recommended he be replaced as part of an academic overhaul of the district.
Less than a year later, a state audit revealed that Rye had stolen $224,000 in unauthorized benefit and leave payments over eight years while working at the district. That amount ballooned as the investigation continued, and it was discovered that Rye had actually been taking money during his entire 15 years with the district, according to the auditor's office.
It's rare for a school superintendent to be prosecuted in federal court, but it's not unheard of. Former Clay County Superintendent Douglas Adams and former Breathitt County Superintendent Arch Turner were both convicted in federal court in recent years for various crimes.
Among the spectators in Rye's hearing Tuesday was Sheila McGuire, a school custodian for 12 years and lifelong Dayton, Ky., resident.
"I just think he should have gotten more," she said after the hearing. "He took from our kids."
Candy Tucker agreed. Her twin boys are in fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary School.
"It's not even about the money. It's about the school," she said. She said the money could have been used to buy new textbooks or technology.
"A lot of these kids don't have much, and he was living high on the hog with that money. He held back their education. How can you steal from kids?"