Arrogance, rather than greed, fueled an embezzlement scheme that brought down a well-respected university professor and sullied the program he ran, said the judge who sentenced the man yesterday to a three-year prison term.

Nabih E. Bedewi, 41, skimmed almost $1 million while heading the National Crash Analysis Center, a research facility in Northern Virginia run jointly by George Washington University and the U.S. Department of Transportation, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Bedewi stole the money during a four-year period that ended last July. Authorities said Bedewi used some of the stolen funds to make payments on his home equity line of credit, buy Washington Redskins season tickets, pay annual fees for a Florida condominium, make three monthly payments on an automobile lease and pay down credit balances for family members.

When he pleaded for leniency from the judge yesterday, Bedewi said the crimes seemed like the right thing to do at the time.

"I clearly realize today, this was a mistake," he said yesterday. "I want to make it clear to the court, Your Honor, I do not believe I am above the law."

U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts chided Bedewi, declaring: "You said they are mistakes. They are crimes."

Roberts told Bedewi that he had taken much advantage of his position as "a revered mentor" and "a highly acclaimed scientist" while embezzling the federal funds -- crimes "not motivated by greed as much as hubris."

He sentenced Bedewi to 38 months in prison followed by three years of probation and 50 hours of community service. He also ordered Bedewi to pay restitution of about $870,000.

Bedewi, an engineer from Reston, was permitted to remain free while arranging a date to report to a federal prison.

The thefts came to light after an investigation by the university. GWU officials then alerted the Federal Highway Administration, one of the partners in the crash center. Bedewi resigned from the university in June 2004 and was arrested about four months later.

In carrying out the scheme, prosecutors said that Bedewi filed nonexistent expenses with companies that he secretly controlled and used federal money to pay unauthorized stipends to graduate students and the spouse of a close relative.

He pleaded guilty to the theft in April, right before the university agreed to a $1.8 million settlement with the federal government to pay back the stolen federal funds. The total included a $659,000 payment and a credit of almost $1.2 million to the federal government.

The university said that the thefts had a much greater impact, contending that Bedewi's activities probably cost an amount closer to $10 million -- when damage to the reputation of various projects is factored in.

"The judge ordered him to pay the university less than that," university spokeswoman Tracy Schario said. "Whether we decide to recoup those costs will be determined."

University officials are saddened by the ordeal, Schario said. But most of all, they are upset that "Bedewi didn't seem remorseful at all."