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Duane Barbati | Alamogordo Daily News
Updated 7:50 p.m. MT Feb. 11, 2017
Former animal rescue bookkeeper gets probation for embezzling money
ALAMOGORDO - A former Animal Village bookkeeper received a six year suspended sentence for embezzling funds from the no-kill nonprofit dog shelter.
In a plea agreement with the state on Jan. 30, Jennifer Carrasco, 36, plead no contest to one count each of third-degree felony embezzlement over $2,500, fourth-degree forgery (issue or transfer of over $2,500) and fourth-degree tampering with evidence.
Carrasco was sentenced to five years of supervised probation instead of receiving the six years in prison. She will have to pay $7,119.73 in restitution plus do 500 hours of community service per the plea agreement. Carrasco will be subject to warrantless searches, drug and alcohol screening, and pay $250 to the crime victims fund.
Representing the state, 12th Judicial Deputy District Attorney James A. Dickenson said he is pleased with the sentence. "I am happy with Judge Schneider's sentence in this case," Dickenson said. "I think with the defense asking for an unconditional discharge and the judge denied that request. It showed she took the case very seriously. She recognized it simply wasn't an embezzlement case of money but a case that had a much wider influence and impact on Animal Village and in the community in general." He said with charities they're under greater scrutiny than an individual or company on their taxes. "Suddenly when your books don't add up and a victim of a crime, the IRS starts calling you," Dickenson said. "The IRS starts auditing and holding a lot of your board members responsible. They can start to get a reputation amongst the community as a nonprofit that doesn't do what it's supposed to do with donor's money. Donors stop giving money and grants stop coming in. It can really add up very fast with what the impact is. It's going to take some hard work for them to dig out of this."
According to 12th Judicial District Court records, Animal Village hired Carrasco to manage the non-profits payroll in April 2014. Carrasco convinced Animal Village owners to switch to QuickBooks by Intuit to streamline their bookkeeping and save them $500 per month in accounting fees, according to records obtained by the Daily News. Records show, the non-profit's owners discovered discrepancies in the finances of the organization then attempted to review the QuickBooks but owners were unable to access the password protected electronic books.
A co-owner asked Carrasco for the passwords on Sept. 11, 2014 but Carrasco didn't provide the passwords until the next day at which time the co-owner discovered financial files were deleted from the program, and their taxes were not being paid, according to records.
The co-owner notified the Otero County Sheriff's Office about Carrasco then OCSO investigators discovered through investigation that Carrasco had deleted multiple programs including QuickBooks from the computer on Sept. 12, 2014, according to records.
According to records, OCSO investigators learned about 13 fraudulent checks totaling $7,119.73 were found after investigators subpoenaed bank records.
Investigators also found that Carrasco had issued $2,300 in worthless checks but had paid off all the fines by September 2014 pertaining to the three instances where she had wrote bad checks in Pima County, Arizona, records show.
Animal Village Director Sunny Aris said she believes Animal Village has years of work ahead because of the embezzlement. "We'll never be where we were," Aris said. "It directly equates to lives (dogs and cats) continuing to be lost that we were here to save. A plea bargain is part of the system. We had to be reasonable people and listen to the district attorney's advice." She said the alternative to the plea agreement would have meant another four days lost to go to trial. "As the district attorney said you don't know what a jury is going to do," Aris said. "You have to listen to the experts and take their advice. Should she have gone to prison? Of course she should've gone to prison as the judge said and I was glad to hear that. I was touched by all of the support. The district attorney said you rarely see that many people in the courtroom and that means a lot."
She said she and Animal Village continue to apply for grants but are unable to get a grant. "We're in debt," Aris said. "The reason we fought so hard to get and keep a debt-free status for all those year was so we could have a reserve account. If you're applying to Maddie's Fund, HSUS or ASCPA, they want to see that you have six months to 48 months in reserve to pay your bills. They don't want to give donate to somebody who maybe out of business."
Originally Published 7:26 p.m. MT Feb. 11, 2017
Updated 7:50 p.m. MT Feb. 11, 2017