Renton woman pleads guilty to embezzling over $3M from local nonprofits

Prosecutors say she used the money for gambling, expensive trips and extensive purchases.

The former finance director at two Seattle area nonprofits pleaded guilty on May 16 in U.S. District Court in Seattle to embezzling more than $3 million from her employers, according to the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors say Susana Tantico, 62 of Renton, committed the embezzlement over a nine-year period. U.S. District Judge James L. Robart will sentence Tantico for two counts of wire fraud Aug. 15.

“Ms. Tantico was a trusted financial professional who sadly used her skills to steal from organizations serving those most in need of help,” said U.S. Attorney Brown. “Each time she used the organization’s credit card for trips, gambling, or clothing, she knew she was effectively stealing from people who depended on assistance from her employer. Then she used her access to the organization ledgers to cover-up the theft. The true victims are the clients who should have been served with the funds she stole.”

According to the charging information and plea agreement, 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 allegedly embezzled nearly $2.3 million from the healthcare nonprofit, according to prosecutors.

The DOJ says 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 Disneyworld, and trips to Las Vegas and San Diego. Tantico also used the medical 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 the big bills, Tantico used the nonprofit’s funds to pay the credit card bills and disguised the payments as legitimate expenses, such as medical supplies. Throughout this timeframe, Tantico reportedly told the non-profit auditors that she was aware of no fraud at the nonprofit.

In 2020, Tantico went to work as finance director for a different nonprofit, one with a focus on criminal justice issues. Tantico reportedly 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 allegedly transferred money to her personal bank account.

Tantico then altered the bank records to hide the embezzlement. At one point, she was reportedly questioned by one of the organization’s banks about all the withdrawals at casinos. She claimed that the nonprofit held youth programs at the casinos and claimed 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.

Prosecutors have agreed to recommend a prison sentence of no more than 41 months in prison. Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.