Charges: Ex-University of Minnesota employee sold 78 computers bought with school funds

A former University of Minnesota employee was charged after allegedly using university funds to buy nearly 80 computers and selling them on Craigslist and at pawnshops, pocketing more than $125,000, according to the criminal complaint.

Michael James McDaniel, 34, of Lilydale, Minnesota has been charged with four counts of theft by swindle. According to university records, McDaniel worked at the U of M from November 2007 to November 2018, working most recently as an administrative consultant for the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR).

A termination letter shows his university employment ended on Nov. 2. 

"Based on your theft of significant University property, your employment at the University of Minnesota is terminated," read the letter in part.

According to the criminal complaint, in October 2018, a finance representative noticed McDaniel had bought several computers at the University of Minnesota bookstore, but never had the computers registered with the CMRR department.

Upon further investigation, University of Minnesota police officers learned McDaniel bought 78 computers with CMRR funds between September 2017 and October 2018. The computers were collectively worth $134,544. McDaniel did return two other computers after human resources contacted him.

When confronted by police, McDaniel claimed three men pulled him into a dark SUV and told him to buy the computers using his connections, but further investigation unraveled his story.

Officers obtained the serial numbers of the stolen computers and contacted Apple, which located many of the computers that are now spread throughout the world. Only six of the computers were registered in Minnesota.

Craiglist records showed multiple postings for selling laptops with McDaniel's number as a contact. Investigators also learned McDaniel pawned five computers in 2017.

Investigators say McDaniel's bank records also showed a pattern. Soon after picking up the computers paid with university funds, he would deposit large cash amounts into his bank account. From Sept. 29, 2017 to Feb. 5, 2019, McDaniel picked up 13 computers, collectively worth $20,831. During the same time period, he deposited more than $20,000 into his bank account. From Feb. 9, 2018 to May 2, 2018, he got 22 computers worth $36,630. During this time, he deposited more than $30,000 cash. From May 16, 2018 to July 30, 2018, McDaniel picked up 23 computers worth $40,451. He deposited more than $40,000 cash in this time period. From Aug. 1, 2018 to Oct. 1, 2018, he picked up 20 computers worth $36,632. In that time frame, he deposited more than $35,000 cash into his account.

McDaniel has a record of swindling in Hennepin County as he was charged in 2017 for returning empty iPad boxes to Target stores. He completed a diversion program in January of 2018.

McDaniel is not in custody. Each of the four counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.