DA: Former Lake Tahoe Humane Society director pleads guilty to embezzlement (updated)
The former executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement Monday.
Nicola “Nikki” Congero entered the plea as part of an agreement struck with the prosecution, according to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office.
The development comes nearly two months after Congero was arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee by South Lake Tahoe police detectives.
An 18-month investigation into alleged embezzlement revealed Congero spent $59,664 of local Humane Society money for personal reasons, per the DA’s office.
As part of her plea agreement, Congero will repay that money to the nonprofit, which has since scaled back services and brought on an entirely new board of directors.
In a statement, the new board said it was satisfied with the outcome.
“The new Board of Directors for the Lake Tahoe Humane Society are satisfied that this individual has been brought to justice. With this very unfortunate circumstance behind us, we can continue to move forward with our rebuilding efforts, and are optimistic and excited about the future and what we will eventually be able to restore to the community.”
Congero also will be placed on formal probation for a period of four years, serve six months in the El Dorado County jail and acquiesce to warrantless search and seizure of her person, home, vehicle and electronics, according to the DA’s office. Congero also will be required to abstain from all forms of gambling and she will be barred from obtaining employment with any business that would require her to handle money.
She will be unable to request a reduction in charges or expungement until the full amount of restitution is repaid.
Congero, 50, was hired by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society in early 2014. During her three-year tenure with the nonprofit, she used Humane Society dollars for furniture for her home, personal vehicle repair, airline tickets, cell phone coverage, retreat expenses and other unauthorized personal expenses, according to the DA’s office.
As previously reported by the Tribune, Congero was fired in March 2017 after the board of directors learned of “certain potential irregularities” concerning the nonprofit’s financial status.
The board contacted law enforcement, sparking the investigation into the Humane Society’s finances and Congero’s behavior.
A new board was instituted earlier this year. Since then it has worked to address the previous shortcomings.
“We have put into place many checks and balances, record keeping/tracking, and stringent business processes and procedures that bring the level of oversight and transparency that was previously missing to safeguard the organization, now, and in the future,” its said in a statement Tuesday.
On July 27 the DA filed a criminal complaint in El Dorado County Superior Court. Detectives flew to Knoxville, where she was living at the time, and arrested her days after the complaint was filed.
Judgement and sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5 at 1:30 p.m. Members of the new Humane Society board will be in attendance to read a victim impact statement.
“We sincerely thank our law enforcement, detectives, witnesses, and the work of the District Attorney’s office for their diligence to bring closure to all of us,” the board said. “There are no words for the level of gratitude that we feel.”
This story has been updated to include comments from the Lake Tahoe Humane Society Board of Directors.
The Tribune has reached out to a man believed to be Congero’s attorney as well as the current vice president of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society. We will update this story if we hear back from those individuals.