A sign on the Unity College campus. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — A former Unity College worker faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to felony wire fraud for taking more than $500,000 from the school.

Beth Bing, 48, who was formerly known as Beth Safford, had worked for several years in the college’s business office in late 2015 when she began using a corporate credit card for her own personal expenses.

Those unauthorized charges included personal travel and lodging, cigarettes, automotive repairs, goods from various Walmart stores and purchases of a wedding dress and more from Amazon.com, she acknowledged as part of a plea deal.

In mid-2017, through her duties managing Unity College’s corporate credit cards, she gained access to a corporate card in the name of another employee and continued to make unauthorized purchases for her own benefit, according to court records.

In May 2018 she got a replacement card in the name of that same worker and charged travel and utility bills for herself and her family members, among other expenses.

In September 2019, Bing fraudulently obtained two more credit cards linked to the school in her own name, and used them for additional unauthorized personal purchases and cash advances at locations outside the state of Maine.

“The defendant’s overall scheme relied heavily on interstate wire communications,” according to the plea agreement, filed in U.S. District Court on Oct. 29.

Each online purchase involved multiple interstate wire communications, according to court documents. She used email to correspond with credit card provider WEX Inc. to order replacement cards, increase spending limits on the cards she was fraudulently using and request that cards disabled due to suspected fraud be reactivated.

Bing also allowed a family member to use a card issued in the name of a Unity College employee, and they charged car repairs and car washes which “were of no benefit” to the school.

The losses to the college totaled $516,834, according to court documents.

Unity College officials said Wednesday they were grateful for a diligent criminal investigation and a swift resolution.

“Law enforcement and the college’s own investigation showed that one former employee was responsible for the act,” officials said. “The college is gratified that the prosecution has delivered closure with regard to this matter.”

In August, Unity College administrators said that the school faced a $12 to $14 million revenue shortfall, attributed in part to 200 fewer students enrolling in the residential program this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic. In response, the college cut or furloughed nearly 30 percent of its workforce ahead of a bombshell announcement that it would “permanently eliminate” its traditional campus model and explore selling its 240-acre main campus in Unity, though none of those properties have been listed.

Still, officials said that the embezzlement has not had a substantial impact on the college’s fortunes.

“This has in no way impacted the college’s financial viability, and has had no bearing on the college’s path forward,” the statement continued.

Bing’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled.