A former treasurer of the Venice High School Booster Club has been charged with allegedly embezzling approximately $175,000 from the organization that raises funds for a wide range of student activities, police said.
Los Angeles Police Department Pacific detectives arrested 62-year-old Herman Wong, a resident of the Venice area, March 10th after serving multiple search warrants to obtain financial records and documents of the high school booster club, Det. Nina Serna said.
Detectives were notified that up to $175,000 was showing missing from the booster club account and after reviewing the financial records they determined that Wong, the volunteer treasurer of the club, had allegedly embezzled funds for personal use, Serna said. Wong, who served as treasurer from 2003 to 2009, had allegedly restored about $57,000 to the account prior to his arrest, she said.
Police arrested Wong, who works as the controller of a local business, at his place of employment without incident and he was released on $20,000 bond, Serna said. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has charged Wong with one count of grand theft by embezzlement, she said.
Wong was the group’s sole treasurer for six years and the booster club was initially unaware that any funds were missing from its account during that time, Serna said.
“He kept the books so the books always appeared correct,” she said.
But after a club member found a discrepancy in the account due to unpaid bills, the high school’s assistant principal notified police, who began an investigation, the detective explained. Serna called the total funds that were allegedly embezzled a “huge amount of money,” noting that it is among the highest amounts in embezzlement cases she has worked on.
The detective said she found the case particularly unsettling during a time when schools are already facing significant cuts as a result of the state budget crisis. The booster club collects money from fundraisers and other donations for various extracurricular activities and the loss of those funds could “affect the morale” of students who are passionate about those programs, Serna said.
Venice High Principal Lonnie Wallace said she was pleased to hear of the arrest, adding that students were very disappointed and upset to learn of the loss of funds. Booster club funds help support school clubs and some athletic teams, and some money was also set aside for the purchase of a marquee to announce events, she said.
“If it is the case (the arrest) then I’m glad that has occurred because the money that is missing is funds that were raised and earmarked for student programs at our school,” Wallace said.
“It’s just shocking to me that someone would utilize funds for their own personal obligation when these funds were raised for students,” she alleged. “It’s just unthinkable to me.”
Lydia Ponce, whose daughter is a junior at the high school, also found it troubling that funds are suspected of being taken from school-related services. Ponce said her daughter’s swim and water polo teams lost approximately $4,000 from the booster club account.
“In this economy this is the last thing that the students needed but we’re happy to hear that justice will be served and we need our community to help rebuild and come together,” Ponce said.
She additionally expressed concern that funds may not be available for the graduation ceremony or prom. But Wallace affirmed that the loss of booster club funds would have no effect on graduation or the prom.
Wallace said Wong did not hold a position at the high school but he became involved with the booster club after his children attended the school.
Serna said this case could serve as a lesson to booster groups to ensure that they are auditing their funds properly and have at least two signers on checks.