Two former staff members at San Diego’s Jewish community center pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the institution in two separate schemes.
Nancy Johnson, chief financial officer of San Diego’s Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center from 1991 to 2014, and Tamara Azizov, an accounts payable clerk from 1989 to 2014, both pleaded guilty June 4 in San Diego federal court to wire fraud and filing false tax returns, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Johnson was unaware of Azizov’s crime while it was happening, prosecutors said.
Johnson, 59, admitted to stealing more than $400,000 from the JCC, using it to pay for various luxury items, including a trip to the Bahamas. To compensate for the funds taken from the operating budget, Johnson ordered JCC department heads to reduce expenses, saying the institution could not afford many of its programs and activities, according to City News Service.
Azizov, 62, admitted to stealing more than $150,000, which she spent on expensive clothes from department stores such as Neiman Marcus as well as restaurant meals and other purchases.
The thefts were not discovered until April 2014, after the two left the JCC. In a statement, Larry Katz, president of the JCC’s board of directors said the theft had not been detected by independent audits conducted by an outside accounting firm or by internal controls. “Upon discovery, the LFJCC leadership took immediate steps to examine and scrutinize our processes, including an independent forensic audit,” he said. “As a result, we have reinforced existing procedures and implemented several new accounting controls and practices to avoid, to the extent possible, any recurrence.”
Katz added that the JCC expects to recover “a substantial portion” of the stolen funds and “although significant, the embezzlement did not materially affect the LFJCC’s operations, level of services or our overall financial condition.”
The thefts are “profoundly disturbing,” said Eric Birnbaum, special agent in charge of the FBI office in San Diego, according to the Times. “The defendants stole money intended to help children and senior citizens to indulge their lavish lifestyles.”
As part of their plea agreements, Azizov and Johnson will have to pay some restitution. The two are scheduled to be sentenced later this year, and each face a maximum of 23 years in prison.
The JCC was founded in 1945 in San Diego and moved to its current location in the suburb of La Jolla in the 1980s. It has an annual budget of more than $10 million, according to its 2013 tax form, the most recent publicly available. That year, Johnson earned $163,116, according to the document.
Amenities at the 97,000-square-foot JCC include tennis courts, a 500-seat theater, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, two eateries, a large Jewish library and an early childhood center, according to its website.