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Treasurer admits to stealing $185,000 from children’s charity

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The treasurer and principal officer of a nonprofit to help kids with heart problems admitted on Tuesday to taking thousands of dollars from the organization.

Robert Lonardo pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of wire fraud.

Lonardo, 67, runs the Rhode Island Association for Cardiac Children (RIACC), which was founded by his late mother. The nonprofit gets most of its money from donations and distributes it to hospitals and families of children with heart diseases and disorders.

Prosecutors said Lonardo set up a scheme to withdraw funds from the charity’s bank account and deposit them into his personal account. In one example, they said Lonardo wrote a $30,000 check from the organization’s account to Women and Infants Hospital, then deposited it into his own account at an ATM.

In all, Lonardo admitted to embezzling more than $185,000 between 2013 and 2015. His attorney, Tom Gulick, told Eyewitness News he took the money out of desperation, not greed, using the money to pay off his mother’s medical bills and other debts.

“He’s anxious to put this behind him and accepts full responsibility,” Gulick said outside court Tuesday.

Gulick said Lonardo plans to repay the money he embezzled.

According to the IRS website, RIACC is still a tax-exempt charity, which can receive tax-deductible donations. An IRS spokesperson declined to comment on whether the charity’s nonprofit status will be revoked or if any investigation is underway, citing privacy laws.

Gulick said the charity’s operations have been “on hold” since charges were filed against Lonardo in early June.

A 990 form filed by the nonprofit lists Lonardo as the principal officer, and says the charity’s mission is “to render financial aid and assistance to families with cardiac children.” That same 2014 document, signed by Lonardo, says RIACC reimbursed families for medical expenses in the amount of $13,263, and gave financial aid payments in the amount of $15,814.

A spokesperson for Hasbro Children’s Hospital said the hospital has looked into this case and found no outstanding pledges from the charity. A spokesperson for Women and Infants Hospital declined to comment about the check written to the hospital that Lonardo kept for himself.

Lonardo is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 14. He’s facing a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and repaying the money he embezzled. There is no mandatory minimum sentence. Prosecutors have not yet reccomended a sentence.

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