A former treasurer of the West Central Community Development Group pleaded guilty Wednesday to embezzlement for stealing nearly $49,000 from the nonprofit over a three-year period.
Michelle Luna, 50, was sentenced to three years of supervised probation and ordered to pay full restitution to the nonprofit.
City Councilor Klarissa Peña and others described their sense of betrayal after learning that a trusted member of the organization had stolen funds from the nonprofit.
“I placed a lot of trust in her,” Peña told 2nd Judicial District Court Judge Brett Loveless during Luna’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday. “We trusted her whole-heartedly and she betrayed that trust.”
Luis Hernandez, executive director of the nonprofit, said Luna’s actions damaged the credibility of the organization and made it harder to raise funds and obtain grants.
“This is a huge black eye on the organization,” Hernandez told Loveless. “It hampers our ability to raise funds and provide services for the community.”
Luna, who is a Bernalillo County employee, made a brief apology Wednesday and said she is taking responsibility for her actions.
“I am sorry for everyone who was hurt in this process,” she said.
Bernalillo County’s salary portal lists Luna as a program coordinator in planning and development services with an annual salary of about $61,000 a year.
Loveless made Luna’s probation conditional on her paying $30,000 in restitution this week, and an additional $18,753 in payments within three years.
The West Central Community Development Group supports businesses and neighborhoods in the West Central metropolitan area, according to the group’s website.
Bernalillo County has selected the West Central Community Development Group to operate the Route 66 Visitor Center — an events center at West Central and 136th Street.
Luna used her access to the nonprofit’s bank account and debit card to make personal purchases of $48,753 with stolen funds from February 2018 to March 2021, according to a criminal complaint filed in Bernalillo County Metro Court.
Luna used the nonprofit’s funds to make personal purchases “in the form of restaurants, retail stores, groceries, online purchases and personal utility services,” the complaint said.
As treasurer, Luna “had complete control of the finances and financial reporting,” the complaint said. She “was entrusted to be a signer in the organization’s bank account” and had a debit card giving her access to the nonprofit’s funds.
The crime was discovered when Hernandez contacted a Quickbooks consultant to implement an accounting system, the complaint said.
Luna did not produce bank statements as requested and “began stalling the implementation of the accounting system by canceling meetings and intentionally not producing the financial documentation needed,” according to the complaint.
After Hernandez obtained the nonprofit’s bank statements, the Quickbooks consultant noticed that the statements did not match Luna’s treasury reports, it said. Discrepancies included transactions conducted by Luna without authorization of the nonprofit’s board president Johnny Peña.