A former Hastings police detective accused of fraud through a deceptive website post last year accepted a plea deal Friday in Adams County District Court.
Jerry Esch pleaded no contest to theft by deception, a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In exchange for his plea, prosecutors reduced the charge from a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. According to a news release from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, Esch will pay $7,500 in restitution.
Judge James Doyle ordered a pre-sentencing investigation and scheduled sentencing for April 12 at 1:15 p.m.
According to the arrest affidavit, investigators with the Nebraska State Patrol claimed that Esch conned fellow officers and community members out of thousands of dollars to pay for medical expenses he never incurred.
A post Esch made on GoFundMe.com asked donors to help pay $27,000 in medical expenses incurred as he battled melanoma. Esch wrote that the cost of his medication was $18,000 a month and he had to pay 20 percent of that cost.
Pharmacy records showed all costs were paid except Esch’s $50 co-payment, which he paid until he reached his out-of-pocket deductible and insurance began paying the bill.
An examination of subpoenaed financial records indicated a maximum of $3,286.45 had been paid for potential medical expenses from Esch’s checking account and credit cards between January 2013 and December 2015. Outstanding balances on three credit cards in Esch’s name totaled about $27,000, but only $653.01 of that was paid toward medical expenses in the same time period.
Investigators found numerous payments going from the $17,691.57 GoFundMe proceeds to non-medical entities, such as paying a divorce attorney, vehicle repairs, personal loan payments and other items.
Esch told investigators he raised more than $30,000, including donations made outside the website. Esch reportedly admitted the claim about paying 20 percent for his $18,000 medication was false so he soon edited that out of the post.
Esch was an officer with the Hastings Police Department for 10 years, most recently assigned as a detective. Esch was no longer employed by the department as of February 2016.
Hastings Police Chief Pete Kortum declined to comment about the case.