James S. Bedell on Wednesday pleaded guilty to four federal counts of embezzlement and theft from the city while he was Edwardsville's police chief.
The money was stolen from tow fees and used to support Bedell's gambling habit, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norm Smith said the government believes the total loss for the city of Edwardsville from 2009 to 2012 was $138,303. Bedell is contesting that amount, so Smith said the amount could change.
Bedell, wearing a black suit, stood motionless and attentive beside his attorney John P. Rogers of St. Louis and listened to U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan lay out the government's charges against him.
Bedell, 58, must repay Edwardsville and faces a sentence ranging from probation to as much as 10 years on each felony count. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 2.
"On your best day you could get probation. On your worst day you could get 40 years," Reagan told Bedell.
As Bedell left the courtroom, he looked down and walked close to his attorney, carrying a small black umbrella and a brown hat. Neither he nor his attorney commented.
Bedell has no sentencing agreement with federal prosecutors in exchange for his plea. He was told to surrender his passport and ordered not to enter any gambling establishments.
Reagan told Bedell to cooperate fully with the probation office.
"If you lie to them, you lie to me. They work for me," Reagan said.
The facts as laid out by Bedell and the government state Bedell was police chief from 2007 through Oct. 5. He was taking the $300 per vehicle city fees collected from those whose vehicles were towed or impounded.
Individuals paid the $300 fee and were given a release form and receipt by a dispatcher. The dispatcher then put the money into the fee impound lock box in the dispatch center. Bedell had access to the key that opened the lock box and took cash and money orders that he used to support his gambling, the document stated.
Bedell unlawfully removed cash and money orders from the lockbox and used it personally "generally to support a gambling habit," the document stated.
"I am disgusted and saddened when called upon to prosecute someone who had sworn to uphold the law. By far and away, most police officers are above reproach. They are the constant guardians of our very freedom. Unfortunately, individuals sometimes succumb to their greed, stealing from those they have vowed to protect and serve. In instances like that, I will not hesitate to bring full and thorough prosecutions," U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said. "Police officers are held to a higher standard. While most exceed that standard, day in and day out, often the few who do not get the most attention."
Edwardsville Mayor Gary Niebur said the plea confirms that Bedell "abused and betrayed" the public trust.
"We are both disheartened and outraged that a person in a trusted position would manipulate an internal administrative process for personal gain," Niebur said. "His actions were not only criminal but despicable."
Niebur also said the actions of one individual did not diminish the efforts of the rest of the Edwardsville Police Department.
As a convicted felon Bedell cannot possess a gun or work in law enforcement. He had no prior felonies.
Bedell resigned as Edwardsville's police chief on Oct. 5, the same day the FBI and Internal Revenue Service raided his home and office.
After Bedell's resignation, an interim chief served until the city appointed Major Jay Keeven of the Illinois State Police to lead the Edwardsville Police Department. A 27-year veteran officer, Keeven had been director of operations for the state police District 11.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503. Some information for this article was provided by reporter Elizabeth Donald.