UM employee pleads guilty to stealing school computers


A man who stole University of Minnesota computers while he was an employee there has pleaded guilty to three charges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Thursday.

On Wednesday, Michael McDaniel, 34, of Lilydale, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft by swindle in the University of Minnesota case and guilty to a theft by swindle charge involving merchandise from a Target store in an earlier case. He will be sentenced on Aug. 14.

Under the agreement, McDaniel will have a 27-month prison term stayed while he is on probation for eight years. He also will serve one year in the county workhouse, although the judge may switch that to electronic home monitoring no later than six months into the sentence. He also will have to pay restitution, which is to be determined at sentencing but will be approximately $134,000.

McDaniel also is receiving treatment for a gambling problem and will have to abstain from gambling during his probation, under the terms of the agreement.

According to the criminal complaint and his testimony during his guilty plea, in October, a university human resources employee noticed a discrepancy in newly purchased computers involving McDaniel. It appeared that McDaniel, who worked at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research near the university football stadium, was buying computers for his department through university bookstores but not registering them through IT.

Further investigation determined that McDaniel was keeping the computers and selling them on Craigslist or at pawn shops. Responding to a search warrant, Apple provided the location of the computers. Investigators contacted the owners of some of those computers and learned how they obtained them. One woman said she responded to a Craigslist ad and purchased it from a man for $800. She and her boyfriend picked out McDaniel’s picture from a photo lineup, according to the complaint. Pawnshop records showed McDaniel pawned five of the stolen computers in 2017.

A review of McDaniel’s bank records showed that every time he ordered computers, a short time later, deposits of slightly less than that were made to his accounts. The bank records also showed McDaniel owed money to a dozen loan companies and on multiple credit cards. He also made substantial cash withdrawals at Twin Cities-area racetracks and casinos.

He also acknowledged the story he told of robbers telling him to steal computers and turn them over to them was a lie.