John Paul Funes, the ousted former chief fundraiser for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of wire fraud in connection with an embezzlement scheme that ultimately cost the foundation $550,000 and could land Funes in prison for more than three years.
The announcement closes one of the most difficult chapters in the history of the venerable OLOL and sheds at least a little more light on a scandal that has had Baton Rouge buzzing since last November, when OLOL stunned the community by announcing it had fired the well-known Funes for embezzling foundation funds.
According to a statement today by U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin’s office, which has filed a bill of information against Funes, the former OLOL Foundation president and CEO ripped off the foundation in several ways and for several years between 2012 and 2018 by submitting fraudulent payment vouchers to the foundation’s accounting department, which wrote him checks he then used for his personal benefit. The statement suggests he was able to get away with it largely because he could approve his own payment vouchers.
According to the charges, some of those payments went to pay for charter flights, which Funes said were needed to transport sick patients from OLOL Children’s Hospital when, in fact, he used them for himself.
Other payments went to gift cards, which Funes said were intended for cancer patients at the hospital, when, in fact, he used them for his own benefit.
The U.S. Attorney also says after fraudulently causing the foundation to issue payments to other individuals, Funes directed those people to funnel the majority of the funds back to him by check of money order, in an effort to conceal the proceeds of the fraudulent scheme.
Though the charges announced today somewhat explain the crime, which Funes is expected to formally plead guilty to at an upcoming hearing, they do not address payments made to the parent of a former LSU student athlete—something that was alluded to in a statement released earlier this year by OLOL, following an independent audit into the matter by Deloitte.
Also unclear is why the Deloitte audit alleged Funes had embezzled some $800,000 in foundation funds, $250,000 more than he is charged with stealing.
The lesser amount could be a result of the plea bargain he negotiated with the feds, according to legal observers. By cooperating and agreeing to plead guilty to the money laundering and wire fraud charges in an amount of $550,000, federal sentencing guidelines put his potential prison time at between 33 and 41 months.
But veteran defense attorney Karl Koch, who has no affiliation with the case, says it’s impossible to say at this point how much time Funes might be sentenced to serve.
“Both the offenses and the guidelines overall have multiple upward and downward adjustments that are possible so it’s impossible to predict the ultimate sentence accurately just yet,” Koch says.
For his part, Funes’ attorney, Walt Green, says in a statement that his client accepts full responsibility and is taking the steps necessary toward restitution to the OLOL Foundation.
“He is extremely remorseful for the harm caused to the institution and others, including family, all of whom had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.”
Funes will continue cooperating with law enforcement in the case, the statement says.