Photo via Pixabay.
Photo via Pixabay.

A former executive with a defunct Los Angeles County-based nonprofit focused on AIDS research was handed a two-year jail sentence Monday for stealing $316,000 from a donor’s estate.

Donnelly Montenegro pleaded guilty in December to grand theft by fraudulent pretenses after being charged with 22 separate felony counts, including six counts of grand theft, three counts of identity theft and 13 counts of money laundering.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office prosecuted the case. Becerra is still in the state office awaiting confirmation for his pick by President Biden as the nation’s health secretary.

“When people generously donate their hard-earned money, they’re hoping to support a cause they care about. They shouldn’t find themselves in the middle of a reckless scheme to take their money for selfish gain,” Becerra said. “At the California Department of Justice, we take seriously our duty to protect good-hearted people from this type of fraud. It was important to hold Donnelly Montenegro accountable.”

Montenegro had been the acting chief operating officer of the AIDS Research Alliance, which was dissolved in early 2015. The organization’s mission was to develop better treatments for those affected by HIV and create a strategy for a cure.

After the nonprofit was disbanded, Montenegro retained access to the organization’s records and led people to believe the ARA was still in operation in order to obtain and then launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations intended for AIDS research from 2015 to 2017, prosecutors said.

Montenegro used the stolen donations for personal expenses, including investments, credit card bills and firearms, according to the California Department of Justice.

The investigation was conducted by the Division of Law Enforcement’s White Collar Investigations Team working closely with the Fraud and Special Prosecutions Section.

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