Jewish center embezzler gets prison time

Jewish center embezzler gets prison time

By Kristina Davis I UT San Diego

SAN DIEGO — The longtime accounts payable manager at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center was sentenced in San Diego federal court Friday to a year and a day in prison for her embezzlement of $154,000 from the nonprofit that served preschoolers, the elderly and everyone in between.

Tamara Azizov, 62, received the same sentence as her former boss, chief financial officer Nancy Johnson, who stole some $412,000 from the La Jolla community center in a separate scheme.

“This is clearly a case where a good person does something bad,” noted U.S. District Chief Judge Barry T. Moskowitz.

He rejected the prosecutor’s recommendation of four months, saying the seriousness of the crime and sending the right message to other would-be charity embezzlers justifies more punishment.

Azizov worked at the center for 25 years upon emigrating from Latvia.

She pleaded guilty to embezzling the funds over a three-year period, spending money on personal expenses such as $258 Tom Ford sunglasses, $124 lingerie and thousands of dollars in clothing from Neiman Marcus and Anthropologie. Like her boss, she would use the center’s credit card, then pay off the bills with the center’s funds and doctor the books to make it look like the expenses were valid.

Larry Katz, the center’s past president of the board of directors, told the judge that the Jewish community felt “an immense sense of betrayal” and that Azizov’s and Johnson’s theft left several programs lacking in funds, from preschool to scholarships to employee retirement. Some employees were even laid off, he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Galvin said the lower sentence was recommended because Azizov accepted responsibility early on, suffers for psychological issues, did not steal as much as Johnson and was not in as high a position of trust as her former boss.

“She is the most remorseful of any defendant I’ve ever seen in my years of practicing,” Galvin said.

Defense attorney Mark Greany said Azizov’s theft can be partly explained by her conditions working under an oppressive boss and her poor pay.

“She did this to make herself feel better,” Greany said.

Azizov cried during much of the hearing, and apologized.

“It’s the worst mistake of my life,” she said. “… I hope people I hurt will find it in their hearts to forgive me so I can go on with my life and maybe help someone less fortunate than I.”

Azizov was also ordered to pay $154,000 restitution, although the court acknowledged she likely wouldn’t have the means to pay it all back. Johnson was able to pay her $412,000 restitution in full.

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