CFO Embezzles Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars from Charity to Fuel Lavish Lifestyle
SAN DIEGO—Former Chief Financial Officer Nancy Johnson and Accounts Payable Clerk Tamara Azizov pled guilty today and admitted using their positions in entirely separate schemes to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center (“JCC”) located in La Jolla, California.
Johnson served as the JCC’s Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) from April 1991 to April 2014, overseeing its $13 million annual budget. As CFO, Johnson had access to the JCC’s bank accounts, credit card accounts, and bookkeeping records. Johnson used her access (between 2008 and April 2014) to misappropriate $412,289.64, which she used for a variety of purchases including: a stay at the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui; airfare to the Bahamas; Jimmy Choo footwear; tickets to the ESPN X Games; and dinners at upscale eateries such Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
As detailed in Court, at the same time Johnson was embezzling funds to pay for lavish vacations and designer clothing, she claimed that the JCC could not afford the numerous programs and activities offered to the community. In fact, Johnson ordered JCC department heads to reduce expenses to make up for the hundreds of thousands of dollars she was siphoning off from the JCC coffers. Moreover, due in part to the embezzlement, the JCC was forced to cut personnel in order to balance its budget.
Azizov served as an Accounts Payable Clerk from June 1989 to May 2014. In this position, she also had access to the JCC’s bank accounts, credit card accounts, and bookkeeping records. In an entirely separate scheme unknown to Johnson, Azizoz misappropriated $154,192.74, which she also used for a variety of purchases, including: Tom Ford sunglasses; $1,820 for sushi at Zip Fusion; Simone Pérèle lingerie; and thousands of dollars’ worth of clothing from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Anthropologie. Both Johnson and Azizov continued their thefts until leaving the JCC in the spring of 2014.
Johnson and Azizov were able to carry out the embezzlement by virtue of their access to the full range of the JCC’s financial records and accounts. On most occasions, they would simply use the JCC’s credit cards to make personal purchases. In order to fool the JCC’s executive staff, auditors, and bookkeepers, they both (without knowledge of the other) falsely characterized their purchases as legitimate JCC expenses. At the end of the year, Johnson would then allocate her personal expenses to the JCC departments that had not exceeded their budgets.
The JCC was founded in 1945 and promotes the continuity and vibrancy of the Jewish community by offering social, cultural, educational, and recreational programs and services. The JCC operates, among other things, a preschool, a center for senior citizens, and one of the largest single-site summer day camps in California. Each year, thousands of community members attend the JCC’s San Diego Jewish Film Festival and the San Diego Jewish Book Fair.
As part of their pleas, Johnson and Azizov will be required to pay the JCC the funds they stole. Johnson’s next court appearance is on August 28, 2015, at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw. Azizov’s next court appearance is on Sept. 11, 2015, at 10 a.m. before Chief U.S. District Judge Barry T. Moskowitz. Johnson and Azizov will appear for sentencing as well as a hearing to determine the amount of restitution.
“San Diego has many fine charitable institutions like the JCC,” said U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy. “I will do everything in my power to insure that individuals who donate to these charities know that their funds are going to be used in an appropriate manner.” FBI Special Agent in Charge, Eric S. Birnbaum commented, “While the FBI investigates many types of fraud, when charitable organizations are victimized by those it entrusts to safeguard its assets, it is profoundly disturbing. The defendants in this case stole money intended to help children and senior citizens to indulge their lavish lifestyles. The FBI remains committed to pursuing those who abuse their position of trust to unlawfully enrich themselves.”
Erick Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation said, “The defendants misappropriated funds from a local community center designed to enrich the lives of those it served. IRS Criminal Investigation will not stand still while criminals line their pockets with illicit proceeds while community programs go underfunded. The defendants have overstepped their bounds feeling entitled to these funds.”
- Nancy Johnson
- Age: 59’
- Escondido, California
- Case Number: 15cr1446-DMS
- Tamara Azizov
- Age: 62
- San Diego, California
- Case Number: 15cr1447-BTM
- Wire Fraud—Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1343
- Maximum penalty: 20 years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
- Filing a False Tax Return—Title 26, U.S.C., Section 7206(1)
- Maximum penalty: three years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation