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Press Release

East Bay Resident Charged With Fraud In Alleged Quarter-Million Dollar Embezzlement Scheme

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California
Defendant Allegedly Bilked San Francisco Non-Profit of Funds, Causing It to Collapse

SAN FRANCISCO – A federal grand jury has indicted Athena Harven, charging her with four counts of wire fraud in connection with an alleged scheme to embezzle more than a quarter of a million dollars from the now-defunct San Francisco non-profit organization where she formerly worked, announced United States Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) Special Agent in Charge Mark Kaminsky. Harven made her initial appearance in federal court this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alex Tse to face the charges.

According to the indictment, Harven, 53, of Vallejo, Calif., was Director of Operations at a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that provided academic support and employment assistance to students in the Sunnydale and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods of San Francisco. The non-profit received funding from, among other sources, the City and County of San Francisco and HUD. As Director of Operations, Harven had access to, and control over, the non-profit’s finances. According to the indictment, for almost four years between April 2015 and December 2018, Harven engaged in a scheme to defraud the organization. Specifically, Harven allegedly wrote herself 119 checks on the non-profit’s bank account and prepared paperwork to suggest that the funds from many of those checks would be used to pay the non-profit’s payroll taxes; in fact, Harven allegedly deposited the checks into bank accounts she controlled and spent the funds to enrich herself, including to withdraw cash from ATMs; to pay for travel expenses, rent, utilities, and groceries; to shop online; to make purchases at various retail stores, restaurants, hotels, casinos, and gas stations; and to shore up the finances of—and to pay expenses associated with—a bakery that she owned and operated.

The indictment alleges that Harven took money earmarked to pay the non-profit’s payroll taxes and spent it instead at merchants including Victoria’s Secret, Forever 21, VIP Luggage & Leather, H&M, and Hollister. She also allegedly withdrew thousands of dollars in cash and allegedly used the funds to pay business rent for her bakery.

The indictment further alleges that Harven took several steps to conceal her fraud from the non-profit allowing the fraud to continue. For example, she allegedly altered the non-profit’s records to show the payee on many of the checks she wrote to herself was ADP, a payroll processing company that formerly worked with the non-profit; in fact, Harven was the payee on the checks. Further, Harven allegedly intercepted dozens of communications over several years from the state tax authorities to the non-profit regarding the organization’s unpaid payroll taxes, allowing her fraud to continue undetected. Additionally, Harven allegedly concocted a fake email, purportedly from an employee of the California Economic Development Department, to conceal her fraudulent scheme.

The indictment alleges that the non-profit and Harven failed to make any payroll tax payments to the federal or state tax authorities between April 2015 and December 2018 and that, as a result, the non-profit owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes in December 2018, when the organization laid off its employees (including Harven), ceased its operations, and collapsed. Finally, the indictment alleges that “the amount of payroll taxes [the non-profit] failed to pay from 2015 through 2018 closely approximated the $256,771.84 Harven embezzled during that same time period.”

The indictment charges Harven with four counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343.

Magistrate Judge Tse released Harven on a personal recognizance bond after this morning’s initial appearance. Harven’s next appearance in this case is scheduled for August 30, 2023, for a status hearing before the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, Senior United States District Judge.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, Harven faces a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of twice the gross loss resulting from her criminal conduct. As part of any sentence, the court also may order Harven to serve up to three years of supervised release to begin after any term of imprisonment, and may impose additional assessments and restitution, if appropriate. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Parker is prosecuting the case with assistance from Lance Libatique and Andy Ding. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General.

Updated July 20, 2023