A Renton woman, the former finance director at two Seattle-area nonprofits, was sentenced on Sept. 5 in U.S. District Court to 41 months in prison for embezzling more than $3 million from her employers.
Susana Tantico, 63, committed the embezzlement over an 11-year period, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said he could not understand how Tantico went from defrauding one nonprofit to another, especially since the first provided medical care to immigrant communities.
“You were leaving people who are sick today without the money to treat them,” Judge Robart told Tantico.
According to records filed in the case, in 1999, Tantico began working for a nonprofit that provides healthcare to underserved populations. Ultimately, Tantico became the nonprofit’s finance director. Between 2011 and June 2020, Tantico secretly embezzled millions of dollars from the healthcare organization. Bank records are available only for the period beginning in December 2016. Between December 2016 and December 2020, Tantico stole nearly $2.3 million from the healthcare nonprofit. She used the nonprofit’s debit and credit cards to withdraw $1.6 million at casinos for gambling.
She also used the debit and credit cards to pay for personal vacations, such as a $26,000 family trip to Florida, and trips to Las Vegas and San Diego. Tantico also used the healthcare nonprofit’s debit and credit cards for more than $83,000 worth of purchases at Nordstrom, and $40,000 worth of purchases at Apple stores.
After running up these expenses, Tantico used the nonprofit’s funds to pay the credit card bills and disguised the payments as legitimate expenses. For example, she categorized expenses for one vacation as “pharmacy supplies” in the accounting system. Throughout this timeframe, Tantico told the nonprofit auditors that she was aware of no fraud at the nonprofit.
In 2020, Tantico went to work as finance director for a different nonprofit with a focus on criminal justice issues. Tantico used more than $485,000 of the nonprofit’s funds for gambling at casinos. She transferred $21,000 from the nonprofit to her mortgage servicer to pay her home mortgage. She also transferred money to her personal bank account. Tantico then altered the bank records to hide the embezzlement.
At one point, Tantico was questioned by one of the organization’s banks about the pattern of withdrawals at casinos. She claimed that the nonprofit held youth programs at the casinos, and that the withdrawals were for cash prize giveaways. In all, Tantico stole nearly $893,000 from the nonprofit. The nonprofit has incurred $132,000 in costs to forensically audit its books, fix its accounting procedures and records, and reply to vendors.
Tantico not only stole the money, but used her position to hide her theft, according to the DOJ. She created phony accounting entries that made her expenditures look like business expenses. She doctored bank statements. She lied to auditors. And she developed financial policies prohibiting the personal use of corporate credit cards, while knowing she was stealing millions of dollars by doing exactly that. Tantico’s theft averaged about $550,000 per year between 2016 and 2022.
In court on Sept. 5, Tantico said: “I am truly sorry… They were my work family…. It’s like I was two separate people. … I always meant to fix it.”
Following prison, Tantico will be on three years of supervised release. She has a restitution obligation of $3.1 million. She provided the court with a $60,000 check today from the sale of her home.
The case was investigated by the FBI.