AUSTIN (KXAN) – A former Rodeo Austin financial manager, who was accused of stealing over $1 million from the nonprofit charity and faced up to 99 years in prison for first-degree felony theft of property, pleaded guilty Thursday in Travis County District Court and will serve 10 years of probation.
Mark Weston’s sentence comes roughly four years after Rodeo Austin officials initially discovered “discrepancies” in their financial accounts in mid 2016. Weston, a certified public accountant and the nonprofit’s financial manager at the time, later admitted he had misappropriated the funds and agreed to pay back $850,000, according to a 2017 legal agreement he signed.
After Weston signed the agreement, Rodeo Austin completed a forensic audit of its finances and discovered a total of $1.3 million missing, according to Rodeo Austin and tax filing records.
As part of his plea agreement, Weston agreed to pay $120,000 in restitution to Rodeo Austin, to stay away from the victim, not to handle a third party’s money as part of his employment, and to disclose his probation to future employers. District Judge Brad Urrutia, who handled the plea agreement Thursday in the 450th District Court, acknowledged Weston could handle money if he were working for himself. However, Weston could not, for example, operate the cash register at a gas station and receive a customer’s money.
Following the plea agreement, Rodeo Austin CEO Rob Golding gave a victim’s statement and said the theft scarred his organization and Weston’s family.
“It is important to understand the magnitude of Mr. Weston’s crimes and the fact that he is a CPA, and knowingly stole over $1 million from a charity and has continued to live on those stolen proceeds for the last five years,” Golding said.
The hearing was held virtually via Zoom and simulcast on Youtube. Weston appeared on video from the courthouse wearing a mask. Golding appeared virtually from his own office.
Weston, now 43 years old, was indicted in Travis County for first-degree felony theft of more than $300,000 on June 20, 2019, and sheriff’s deputies arrested him four days later.
The Texas State Board of Public Accountancy revoked Weston’s accounting license in 2018 for “discreditable acts.”
In 2017, Weston’s attorney Alberto Garcia said Weston had “returned over a quarter of a million dollars to the Austin Rodeo and looks forward to making the Austin Rodeo and their insurance company whole.”
In January 2020, Golding told KXAN the nonprofit has recovered only $300,000 from Weston.
“It really put in jeopardy our ability to continue to fund our youth giving activities, specifically college scholarships and other direct awards,” Golding told KXAN in January. “We worked very hard over the last three or four years to recover financially.”
Rodeo Austin uses proceeds from its month-long March rodeo event to provide student scholarships. The organization has awarded more than $8 million to over 2,400 students, according to the organization’s website.
Golding previously told KXAN the theft significantly impacted the nonprofit’s finances and the organization had to “make cuts and changes in order to keep that giving at the same level.”
In a 2017 prepared statement, Weston’s attorney, Alberto Garcia, said Weston was suffering from early onset Parkinson’s disease and was prescribed the drug Requip. Garcia said one of the drug’s side effects is obsessive compulsive disorder, and the drug caused Weston to engage in “uncontrollable compulsive spending.”
“With Mr. Weston’s knowledge of accounting, especially forensic accounting, he could have very easily hidden the theft of funds,” Garcia said in the 2017 statement. “Yet, all he did was in the open that any first year accountant could have easily discovered. Again, this is an example that Mr. Weston’s actions were the result of the medication Requip, not an intention act on his part.”