Two former employees of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla, California, pleaded guilty on June 4 in federal court to embezzling $566,482.38 for personal indulgences.
Nancy Johnson, the former chief financial officer, and Tamara Azizov, an accounts payable clerk, entered the pleas in San Diego. The two defrauded the JCC in separate schemes unknown to each other, prosecutors said, and will be required to pay back the stolen funds as part of the plea agreement.
Additionally, each face a maximum of 23 years and a $500,000 fine for wire fraud and filing a false tax return.
"The defendants in this case stole money intended to help children and senior citizens to indulge their lavish lifestyles," FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum said in a statement.
Johnson, 59, was the CFO from April 1991 to April 2014 and oversaw the JCC's $13 million annual budget. Prosecutors said she used her access between 2008 and April 2014 to misappropriate $412,289.64 for purchases that included a vacation in Maui, airfare to the Bahamas, footwear, ESPN X Games tickets and upscale dinners at restaurants such as Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
Azizov, 62, was an accounts payable clerk from June 1989 to May 2014 and misappropriated $154,192.74. Prosecutors said her purchases included sunglasses, $1,820 for sushi, lingerie and thousands in clothing from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Anthropologie.
Prosecutors said the two were able to carry out the fraud because of their access to JCC financial records and accounts, including credit cards and bookkeeping records. Both would list purchases as legitimate JCC expenses, and Johnson allocated personal expenses at the end of the year to JCC departments that did not exceed budgets.
While Johnson was using the funds to pay for her lifestyle, prosecutors said she claimed the JCC could not afford certain programs and ordered department heads to reduce expenses to make up for embezzled funds. The JCC was forced to cut staff to balance the budget, prosecutors said.
Johnson and Azizov declined to speak to a reporter after the hearing, according to a Union-Tribune report.
“While it has not been easy to learn that people we came to trust for more than 20 years violated that trust, we can reassure our community that although significant, the embezzlement did not materially affect the LFJCC’s operations, level of services or our overall financial condition,” Larry Katz, president of the board of directors, said in a statement provided to the Union-Tribune.
Founded in 1945, the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center operates a 97,000-square-foot facility that offers several community and recreational programs. The JCC has a 3,000-square-foot fitness center, a four-court tennis center, an Olympic-size pool, a basketball gym and an outdoor park for various rec leagues.