Lake Tahoe Humane Society mostly closed for ‘restructuring’ amid embezzlement investigation
Almost a year after Lake Tahoe Humane Society’s executive director was fired for allegedly embezzling thousands of dollars, the nonprofit is mostly closing up shop for “restructuring.”
“We are not closing 100 percent,” said Sue Pritchett, a Lake Tahoe Humane Society board member. “We are restructuring, but I can’t comment too much on that.”
Pritchett said they will continue to open the doors of their Emerald Bay Road headquarters on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to pass out pet food.
“We have quite a few people who come in off the streets for food for their pets, and we want to continue providing that,” said Pritchett.
In April 2017, the board fired then-executive director Niki Congero for allegedly embezzling thousands of dollars from the organization, kicking off an investigation by South Lake Tahoe Police Department.
The board found out something was amiss when the bank called to notify them about “irregular activity.”
Congero’s lawyer Adam Spicer disputed the embezzlement claims, instead pointing the finger at the board for “mismanag[ing] the money.” He said it was unfortunate the community had “rushe[d] to judgment.”
In June 2017, police executed a search warrant at Congero’s house, confiscating a couch rented from a Rent-A-Center with Lake Tahoe Humane Society money along with some bank documents.
Lt. Shannon Laney of SLTPD previously told the Tribune that the police know that Congero frequented Dotty’s Casino in Stateline “and used her Humane Society … card there to withdraw money.”
The police wrapped up their investigation before the new year, but at this time, no formal charges have been made against Congero.
Congero and her husband Arthur have since moved away from South Lake Tahoe.
Pritchett said it’s “frustrating” that no charges have been made against Congero.
“I don’t understand what’s going on,” said Pritchett. “We’re hoping to get an appointment with the [district attorney] soon.”
Since reporting the missing funds to police, Lake Tahoe Humane Society laid off its education director Liz Maul and suspended its spay and neuter program.
Judy Brown, the nonprofit’s office manager and acting executive director, was told on March 21 that it was her last day with the nonprofit.
“We were getting enough donations each month to pay our bills,” said Brown, who has been with the organization for 19 years. “I was really startled and shocked. It’s sad. Ever since the thing with [Congero] came down, I’ve felt that some people should have resigned and had people come in that really know how to be a board member for a nonprofit. They tend to react fast and not think.”
Brown said the board told her they planned to sell the office. Pritchett would not comment on the future of the building.
In a letter provided to Brown on Wednesday, the board members wrote that they feel the Humane Society’s “purpose for existing in the community has diminished” and other organizations will pick up the programs they provided for animals and pet owners. Brown believes this is untrue and shows a lack of understanding for what the organization has done for the South Shore.
The two “resident cats” at the Lake Tahoe Humane Society office, Callie and Truman, are currently staying with Brown and in search of new homes.
“The community has been awesome. They have been so supportive,” said Pritchett. “This is our 50th year and it breaks our hearts that we are having to make these big changes, but they have to be made. We owe it to the community.”
El Dorado County Animal Services is not affiliated with the humane society and is still operating its shelter and adoption program in South Lake Tahoe.