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Agent testifies at Merrick woman's trial about diversion of money from non-profit

Wafa Abboud, former executive director of Human First,

Wafa Abboud, former executive director of Human First, exits a federal courthouse in Brooklyn during her embezzlement trial on June 26. Credit: Charles Eckert

An FBI agent testified Wafa Abboud diverted money from her Human First non-profit for the disabled to pay credit card bills for comforts including a stay in Lebanon’s Royal Beirut hotel, dining at Nobu in Los Angeles and visits to Long Island spas, as her Brooklyn federal court theft trial neared its end Wednesday.

The agent, David Beier, told jurors that the Royal Beirut, where Abboud spent more than $2,000, featured Mediterranean views among other amenities, according to his internet research. “It’s a place I’d like to go,” he said, “but I’ve never been there.”.

Abboud, 51, of Merrick, is charged with siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars while serving as executive director of Human First, a $23 million state-funded service provider with facilities on Long Island and in New York City for an estimated 1,400 clients with autism and other disabilities.

She allegedly embezzled money by getting kickbacks from cronies through inflated management and real estate consulting contracts that were paid by Human First, using its government funding to pad her lifestyle and pay for a 9-bedroom Merrick mansion.

The trial began last week, and is expected to wrap up on Monday, when U.S. District Judge Edward Korman told jurors they should expect to begin deliberations.

Beier, displaying charts and bank records tracking the flow of money among different bank accounts, said payments Abboud allegedly received by splitting a $16,000 monthly fee from Human First with consultant Marcelle Bailey – who has pleaded guilty – was used in part for $157,000 in credit card bills.

The charges, he said, included big-ticket items such as travel to Lebanon, California and Florida, $5,000 and $6,000-plus fees for camps for her children, and dental bills, along with perks like Broadway tickets to “Newsies” and more mundane items – furniture, cosmetics, regular visits to the “Beautiful People Salon” in Merrick and “De La Mere,” a spa/salon in Bellmore, and parking tickets.

In earlier testimony, former Human First board chair Sharon Jones testified that Abboud founded the agency in the early 2000s and took over the title of executive director from her husband after a divorce. She said Abboud never told the board she was getting $8,000 a month from Bailey.

Witnesses said the agency paid for perks including a Range Rover and $60,000 tuition for certificate courses at Harvard Business School, and she exercised such control that her salary was raised to $480,000 without board approval so that she could qualify for a loan on the Merrick house.

Abboud’s defense lawyers contend that Bailey was a close friend, that because of the extensive work she did for Human First the $16,000 monthly fees were merited, and that splitting her pay with Abboud was something she did out of friendship, not a crime.

In addition to conspiracy and embezzlement, Abboud is also charged with bank fraud for lying to her lender in order to buy her house on Merrick Avenue  for more than $1.3 million. The trial resumes on Monday.

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