BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - John Paul Funes, the former president of the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, was officially charged with wire fraud and money laundering, according to a June 4 news release from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
From about 2012 to September of 2018, Funes allegedly defrauded the foundation, causing a loss of more than $550,000.
The foundation is the fundraising arm of the hospital, which raises money for projects like the new OLOL Children’s Hospital. The fundraising efforts include an annual event co-sponsored by WAFB in which five red cars are raffled off. The drawings have raised millions of dollars for the hospital over the years.
Investigators have said in the past they do not believe any funds from the 5 Cars, 5 Winners drawings were affected.
Courts documents state Funes allegedly wrote fraudulent checks “on dozens of occasions” made out to himself and to those close to him.
According to court records, Funes often used the gift cards for his own personal benefit.
The DOJ says Funes used gift funds to purchase hundreds of Walmart and Visa gift cards meant for cancer patients. Instead of having staff distribute the cards to the patients, Funes distributed the cards at his own discretion.
Funes is also accused of using services of a charter flight company in Houma for his own benefit without the foundation’s knowledge. Court documents state Funes used foundation funds to use these services.
On December 31, 2017, Funes chartered a flight to take his family and friends to see a New Orleans Saints game in Tampa, Florida and then to attend the Citrus Bowl in Orlando before arriving back in Baton Rouge January 1, 2018. The trip cost the foundation $14,000.
Court documents state Funes used funds from the foundation to send about $107,000 worth of checks to “Individual A” and that person’s daughter (“Individual B”), who both lived in Florida. The unidentified individuals were neither family members of Funes or OLOL patients. Funes did have a close relationship with the family, who funneled about $63,000 back to Funes, according to court documents.
Funes also approved payments to individuals who did little to no work for the foundation. The district court identified one of these individuals included an “Individual C,” who received about $180,000 in foundation funds.
In at least one case, Funes funneled a portion of foundation funds into a fake account posing as a fictitious vendor.
Funes used these channeled funds to buy tickets to sporting events, and sometimes resold them and kept the repayments.
The DOJ says investigations revealed Funes created numerous false documents, including fake invoices, in an attempt to hide the scheme. These documents were discovered through an internal audit led by the foundation’s finance department.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric J. Rommal stated, “The defendant betrayed both his employer and the Baton Rouge community as a whole by abusing the trust placed in him as President of the Foundation. The FBI New Orleans Division and our federal partners are committed to holding individuals accountable for their actions when they illegally profit at the expense of our community’s institutions.”
“John Paul Funes continues to accept full responsibility for his actions and is taking the steps necessary toward restitution to Our Lady of the Lake Foundation,” Walt Green, Funes’ attorney, said in a prepared statement. “He is extremely remorseful for the harm caused to the institution and others, including family, all of whom had no knowledge of any wrongdoing. Finally, John Paul has and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement agencies regarding this matter.”
The investigation is being led by the United States Secret Service, with valuable assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Alan Stevens, who also serves as deputy criminal chief.