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Long IslandCrime

Jury convicts woman of stealing from nonprofit she headed

Wafa Abboud, former executive director of Human First,

Wafa Abboud, former executive director of Human First, on June 26. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A Brooklyn federal court jury convicted Wafa Abboud on Tuesday of ripping off nearly $1 million dollars from a nonprofit for the disabled that she headed to help buy and renovate her million-dollar house in Merrick and to pad her lifestyle with vacations, cosmetic surgery and other perks.

Abboud, 51, the former head of the nonprofit Human First, which serves about 1,400 clients from its facilities on Long Island and in New York City, was convicted on the first day of deliberations of embezzling money, conspiracy and bank fraud.

Before the verdict Tuesday, Abboud complained to U.S. District Judge Edward Korman about her lawyers, telling the judge she had wanted to testify but they “wouldn’t agree” and objecting to their strategic decisions.

“I am a single mother of 3 children who have no support of any kind, I am innocent of all these charges and waited three years for justice to clear my name,” she wrote in a letter. The judge declined to re-open the case to let her testify and said he would appoint a new lawyer to address her concerns.

She faces a potential maximum in excess of 45 years in prison, although her sentence is likely to be far shorter. Korman did not set a sentencing date, and defense lawyers Sam Schmidt and Andrew Bernstein declined to comment on her complaints or the verdict.

Abboud, according to trial testimony, founded the agency in the early 2000s and its budget grew to over $22 million in government funding as it absorbed other agencies. She replaced her husband as CEO after a divorce, and later arranged a $480,000 salary without board approval to help pay for the Merrick home.

Prosecutors charged her with two kickback schemes with associates whom she had Human First hire as consultants – allegedly stealing $420,000 by splitting a $16,000 monthly fee to a management consultant, and conspiring with a construction consultant to funnel $440,000 in diverted agency money into her house.

The money she split with management consultant Marcelle Bailey, who has pleaded guilty, was allegedly used to pay $157,000 in credit card bills for expenses ranging from California and Lebanon vacations to meals, spa visits and cosmetic surgery, as well as funding cash withdrawals, overseas wires and property taxes.

Other stolen money, prosecutors said, was used to fund the 2014 purchase of a 5,000-square-foot mansion on Merrick Avenue for $1.3 million – it’s now valued at $2.2 million according to the website Zillow – and to pay for renovations, including an expansion of the second floor, a new roof and a patio.

“With today’s verdict, Abboud has been held accountable for abusing her position of trust ... and funding her elaborate lifestyle withmoney intended to serve the needs of vulnerable individuals in the community,” said Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn.

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