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Two former employees of Jewish center in La Jolla admit financial fraud

Former employees of Jewish community center in La Jolla plead guilty to fraud, income tax violation

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 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 for Sept. 11. In both cases, judges will determine the amount of restitution.

 

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