The former director of the University of Utah's telecommunications department faces sentencing April 3 on his no contest plea in connection with a scam that cost the university up to $500,000.

Stephen A. Merrill, 39, entered the plea Monday in 3rd District Court to one count of mishandling government property.In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dismissed 10 other felony theft, fraud and bribery counts, said Howie Lemcke, deputy Salt Lake County attorney.

Merrill was accused of inflating prices the university paid for long-distance telephone service. According to court documents, he contracted with ZCMI Telecommunications Department for the university to pay 3 cents a minute for use of long-distance phone lines.

At the same time, the complaint says, Merrill set up an unlicensed company, Z-Net, to act as an intermediary, paying ZCMI the 3-cent-per-minute fee while collecting 10 cents a minute from the university.

Although not an admission of guilt, the no contest plea carries the same potential penalties as if the defendant admitted the crime. Lemcke said Merrill could be sentenced to a maximum one-to-15-year prison term and up to $10,000 fine.