2 ad­mit steal­ing over $500,000

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Tony Perry tony.perry@la­times.com

Two for­mer em­ploy­ees of the Lawrence Fam­ily Jewish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter in La Jolla pleaded guilty Thurs­day to de­fraud­ing the cen­ter of hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to in­dulge “lav­ish life­styles.”

Nancy John­son, 59, the for­mer chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, and Ta­mara Az­i­zov, 62, an ac­counts payable clerk, pleaded guilty in San Diego fed­eral court to wire fraud and fil­ing false in­come tax re­turns. Their schemes were sep­a­rate, pros­e­cu­tors said.

John­son ad­mit­ted mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing $412,289.64 from the cen­ter, which she used for a stay at a re­sort in Maui, air­fare to the Ba­hamas, designer footwear, tick­ets to the ESPN X Games and dining at up­scale restau­rants, among other things, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Az­i­zov ad­mit­ted mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing $154,192.74, which she spent on lin­gerie, sun­glasses, sushi din­ners and clothes from Neiman Mar­cus, Nord­strom and An­thro­polo­gie, among other things, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The schemes were dis­cov­ered af­ter the two left the cen­ter in 2014.

While the two were de­fraud­ing the cen­ter, the or­ga­ni­za­tion was forced to cut back on pro­grams and lay off em­ploy­ees, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

Each faces a max­i­mum of 20 years in pri­son for mail fraud and three years for fil­ing a false in­come tax re­turn.

The thefts are “pro­foundly dis­turb­ing,” said Eric Birn­baum, spe­cial agent in charge of the FBI of­fice in San Diego.

“The de­fen­dants stole money in­tended to help chil­dren and se­nior cit­i­zens to in­dulge their lav­ish life­styles,” he said.

Founded in 1945, the cen­ter is de­signed to of­fer so­cial, cul­tural and recre­ational pro­grams and has an an­nual bud­get of $13 mil­lion.

John­son’s sen­tenc­ing is sched­uled for Aug. 28; Az­i­zov’s is sched­uled for Sept. 11.

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