Former Shelley principal sentenced for theft of school funds
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BLACKFOOT — The former principal of Shelley High School was sentenced Monday for stealing thousands of dollars from the school.
Eric T. Lords, 49, will spend five years on probation, with 50 days in jail and 300 hours of community service. District Judge Darren Simpson also gave an underlying three to 10-year prison sentence Lords could serve if he is not successful while on probation.
Simpson handed down the sentence during a Zoom hearing after Lords pleaded guilty in February to felony grand theft. As part of a plea agreement, it stipulated Bingham County prosecutors and Lords’ defense attorney James Archibald recommend that Lords be placed on probation.
“I am immensely apologetic for the decisions I’ve made,” Lords said before Simpson handed down the sentence. “It’s out of my character. I let people down and I let my students down at Shelley High School that I really looked up to – as well as teachers and staff and my family and friends.”
Archibald presented several letters from those close to Lords in support of his character. Archibald called the case against Lords unfortunate, saying teachers and those who loved him were shocked by the news of the theft.
“He’s been publicly humiliated and he’s paying the price for that,” Archibald said.
The defense attorney asked Simpson to withhold judgment and sentence Lords to community service in addition to probation but Simpson did not grant the withheld judgment.
“This case was fairly large, especially in the Shelley community and it has awakened a lot of interest,” said Bingham County Prosecutor Paul Rogers.
Rogers said given the significance and gravity of the case, a lot of disheartened members of the public reached out to prosecutors.
“This is happening in a public school setting,” Rogers said. “The feeling I got from all of it was that it’s affecting our taxpayers and their trust in the school system. So we have to be able to make that up to the public.”
With that, Rogers asked Simpson to give Lords probation with 200 hours of community service to repay the community’s trust. Rogers also asked for three to seven years of a suspended prison term.
Lords became principal at Shelley High School in 2016 and suddenly resigned in 2018 following an audit that found the school had mismanaged funds. The investigation into Lords’ personal thefts became public in 2019.
Prior to the criminal charges, Lords also faced disciplinary action from the Idaho Professional Standards Commission. They suspended his administrative certificate, but then allowed him to keep it after he agreed to pay back the money he stole.
Lords’ purchases in 2017 included a water heater, a family season ski pass to Grand Targhee, ATV parts and more. Lords has since paid over $3,700 back to the school.
“I just want to apologize to the court, the Shelley School District, the Shelley Community and basically everyone in east Idaho who I’ve let down,” Lords said. “I just apologize for my actions and my poor decision-making.”
Simpson asked Lords why he stole in the first place.
“It was just the want, the need to give my family, my kids everything,” Lords said. “Really to not say no to them.”
Lords is not the only Shelley High School employee to face criminal theft charges in the past year. Cristy Jo Burton, 52, worked as the schools’ financial secretary and embezzled over $10,000 in 2018. Burton was ordered to serve 60 days in jail, followed by six years on probation.
In addition to the community service, jail time and probation terms, Lords will have to pay a $1,000 fine. He will have to serve the jail time within six months and complete community service within the next 18 months.