A Merrick woman paid a $480,000 salary to head a Lynbrook nonprofit for people with autism and other disabilities has been indicted in Brooklyn federal court, accused of siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay expenses like $8,000 in cosmetic surgery and a new patio at her $1.5 million home.
Wafa Abboud, 48, former executive director of Human First of Lynbrook, moved more than $1.3 million to front companies and then got kickbacks to pay for a $340,000 down payment and a second floor on her Merrick home, and perks that included vacations, jewelry, property taxes, nail salons and spa treatments, officials said Monday.
Abboud was charged with conspiracy, embezzlement and bank fraud along with Marcelle Bailey, 49, of Garden City, and Rami Misbah Taha, 39, of the Bronx, who ran companies that allegedly kicked back fees from Human First to Abboud. Bailey and Abboud were also named in a state indictment for not paying taxes.
“Abboud used co-conspirators to help her steal funds that were intended to help children with disabilities,” said Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI’s New York office, in a statement. “Instead, the funds were used to finance a lavish lifestyle.”
New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, whose office brought the tax charges, said “the crimes alleged in these indictments are troubling, particularly because they involve funds intended to benefit the developmentally disabled community,”
Human First was founded in 2001 and has 400 employees providing state and federally funded services to 1,400 families and individuals with special needs in New York City and on Long Island. Its fiscal 2016 budget exceeded $21 million, a spokeswoman said.
In a statement, the organization said it had fired both Abboud and Bailey, a consultant who was “functioning” as chief operating officer, on May 27 after an internal investigation, and had entered into a management agreement with United Cerebral Palsy of New York to help run its operations.
“If the allegations in the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney prove true, Human First Inc., its dedicated staff and special individuals we serve are all the victims of their criminal conduct,” the statement said.
Abboud began as executive director of the group in 2010. In 2014, according to state filings, she was paid $367,000. A spokeswoman for Human First said Abboud made $480,000 in 2015. Her 5,000-square-foot home at 2739 Merrick Ave. was purchased for $1.3 million in 2014 and is now worth $1,565,000, according to the real estate website Zillow.
In a biography on Vimeo, Abboud says she was educated at the University of Cairo, NYU and Harvard Business School, founded Human First and served as associate executive director beginning in 2001, and was named by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to serve on a statewide task force to develop a “Justice Center” to protect those with special needs.
“One of her goals was to start an agency that had an outstanding compliance record, exceeding regulatory expectations, while providing highly personal service to people with special needs,” the biography says.
According to prosecutors, from 2011 until 2016, Human First paid Bailey’s firm, MPB Management Services, $16,000 a month in “purported” consulting fees, but more than $400,000 was deposited into accounts used to pay for Abboud’s credit card bills, cash transfers abroad and even her property taxes.
Separately, the government said, Bailey and Taha — who had a company paid by Human First for architectural consulting — together funneled Human First money back to Abboud to help her buy the Merrick house and pay for renovations including a patio, a new roof and a 3,200- square-foot second floor.
“Embezzlement of public funds meant to aid individuals with developmental disabilities impacts some of the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers, whose office brought the charges.
The three defendants were first charged in a criminal complaint in June, and have been free on bail. Lawyers for Abboud and Taha declined to comment.
Matthew Myers, a lawyer for Bailey, said, “Ms. Bailey maintains her innocence. She has put in a tremendous amount of energy helping others throughout her life and looks forward to clearing her name.”
No date has been set for the arraignment of the three.