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Head of car donation charity pleads guilty to fraud

A Queens woman who solicited car donations for charity, many of them from Long Islanders, and then used the more than $2 million for herself, pleaded guilty Thursday to three felonies, the state attorney general said.

Shoba Bakhsh, 43, of Ozone Park, was the head of Hope for the Disabled Kids, an Ozone Park-based nonprofit that claimed to use proceeds from donated cars to buy equipment and other supplies for children at hospitals.

Instead, according to state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office, Bakhsh lied to donors and funneled the money toward her own use. The majority of donors to Hope for the Disabled Kids were residents from Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to the office.

Her organization, founded in 2001, made no charitable expenditure between mid-2007 and 2009, the attorney general's office said. Instead, Bakhsh used the money to buy real estate in Florida, and to pay her department store credit card accounts and tuition for her children, it said.

Bakhsh surrendered to the First Precinct on Wednesday night, and Thursday morning pleaded guilty to one count of scheming to defraud and two counts of offering a false instrument for filing - all felonies.

Bakhsh has agreed to shut the charity and is prohibited from serving on any nonprofit board or as an officer. She faces at least 5 years' probation when she is due to be sentenced Sept. 23.

Bakhsh's attorney, Fred Assenza of Manhattan, said his client "took responsibility for mistakes that were made at the charity." But Assenza disputed the attorney general's claim that Bakhsh used the charity's money for personal real estate, credit card payments or tuition.

The arrest comes about two weeks after Cuomo's office announced an investigation into car donation charities. Bakhsh's organization was one of 14 such charities Cuomo's office subpoenaed.

"This individual manipulated donors and exploited children with serious medical needs in order to enrich herself and her family," Cuomo said. "Millions of dollars that should have gone to help disabled children were instead spent on department store bills and real estate."

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