The former executive director of a New York charity is heading to federal prison after being convicted of embezzling more than $1 million to fund a life of luxury.
Long Island resident Wafa Abboud, age 55, of Merrick, was sentenced to nearly three years behind bars in federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
It followed her convictions on charges of embezzling funds, bank fraud, and money laundering after a two-week jury trial in July 2019.
Prosecutors said Abboud ran Human First, a nonprofit organization in Nassau County that provides services to developmentally disabled youth, from January 2011 until her termination in May 2016.
During her tenure, the charity received tens of millions of dollars each year from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
According to investigators, Abboud issued approximately $16,000 a month in consulting fees to MPB Management Services, which was controlled by co-defendant Marcelle Bailey. Each month, approximately half that amount was deposited into bank accounts in MPB’s name that Abboud controlled.
In all, prosecutors said she diverted approximately $420,000 of Human First funds into accounts that were used to pay for her personal expenses, including a trip to Disneyland, tickets to a Broadway show, and visits to luxury spas and high-end beauty salons.
The stolen money also went toward cosmetic surgeries and international wire transfers, investigators said. Nearly $120,000 in cash was withdrawn.
Abboud also embezzled more than $440,000 from Human First with the help of co-conspirator Rami Taha, another consultant who Abboud hired to work at Human First.
Prosecutors said Abboud intentionally overpaid companies controlled by Taha for work done on Human First properties knowing that the overpayments would be paid back to her. She then used the money to fund the down payment on her home and to pay for extensive renovations.
In order to hide the true source of the money, Abboud told her mortgage lender the funds stemmed from a settlement payment she had received for damage caused to her previous home.
Prosecutors said Abboud also awarded herself an annual salary increase to $479,000 without obtaining the required approval from Human First’s Board of Directors.
“Stealing taxpayer money earmarked for developmentally disabled youth to pay for vacations, cosmetic surgery, and luxurious vacations is shameful,” US Attorney Breon Peace said.
“Today, the defendant has been held accountable for betraying the most vulnerable among us whom she was entrusted to serve and treating the non-profit organization bank accounts as though they were her own.”
In addition to her time behind bars, a judge ordered Abboud to forfeit $836,000 and pay $1.4 million in restitution to Human First.
Bailey pleaded guilty to embezzlement and bank fraud in December 2017 and was sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison in August 2021.
Taha pleaded guilty to embezzlement in May 2019. A Fourth defendant, Arkadiusz Swiechowicz, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in September 2018. Both are awaiting sentencing.
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