John Paul Funes, the former chief fundraiser for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, appeared in federal court this afternoon and pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole more than $550,000 from the OLOL Foundation, which he headed for more than a decade.
But Funes, 49, is expected to reverse today’s plea, entered as a customary procedure, at a June 20 hearing, and plead guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of wire fraud.
Prosecutors allege Funes stole the foundation’s money over the course of several years by falsifying payment vouchers then using the money to fly family and friends to LSU and New Orleans Saints football games under the guise of “patient transports.” He also is accused of buying gift cards he said were for cancer victims then using them for his personal benefit.
Prosecutors say the alleged scheme began around 2012 and lasted until Funes was caught during the course of an internal audit last fall.
Funes made no comment as he entered the federal Middle District of Louisiana Courthouse downtown accompanied by his attorney, Walt Green, a former U.S. Attorney. In the courtroom before the 20-minute hearing began, he appeared alternately at ease, chatting with Green and smiling, and at times tense, nervously twitching his fingers.
None of his family or friends were present for the hearing, at which U.S. Magistrate Erin Wilder-Doomes advised him of his rights and read the entire bill of information, which lays out the charges against him, filed by prosecutors earlier this month.
As expected, the U.S. Attorney’s office waived a detention hearing.
Following the expected June 20 guilty plea, Funes will be sentenced, though not for at least 90 days and perhaps much longer. Legal experts have said it is impossible to calculate how much prison time he might serve. Based on his cooperation with prosecutors, however, and the nature of the charges, he could do more than three years in a minimum security facility.
Funes is also in the process of making full restitution to OLOL, which alleges he stole more than $800,000 from the foundation, not just the $550,000 with which he was charged.
Hospital administrators recently said they expect him to repay the full $810,000.
Green has said Funes regrets his actions. In a statement issued June 4, he said his client is “extremely remorseful for the harm caused to the institution and others, including family, all of whom had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.”