PASADENA, Texas – A financial administrator who embezzled more than $1 million from the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Tuesday.
Jamie Huffar, 47, pleaded guilty Friday to two first-degree felonies, including theft and forgery, for stealing over $1 million from the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce between November 2017 and November 2022.
According to investigators, Huffar used the money for cosmetic surgeries and other luxuries, including trips to Budapest and Disney World, and extravagances such as frequent massages, new iPhones and clothing. She also purchased hundreds of items from Amazon, eBay and other shopping websites. Huffar paid thousands of dollars for seats to root for the Astros with a friend at the 2022 World Series, Ogg said.
Investigators said Huffar, who had no criminal record, was hired at the Chamber of Commerce as a bookkeeper and rose through the organization to become Director of Finance. She was able to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to delay audits and other checks and balances while stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit, authorities said.
“Prosecuting white-collar crime like this is an important priority because stealing from small businesses and nonprofits doesn’t just hurt the organization, it hurts the people those organizations are trying to help,” Ogg said. “The evidence our Public Corruption Division uncovered was so overwhelming that this defendant really had no choice but to take responsibility.”
When officials with the chamber were able to finally force her to submit the financial records for audit, investigators said she admitted to opening one credit card in the name of the chamber president. However, the depth of her extensive theft did not come to light until the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the Pasadena Police Department worked together on a four-month-long investigation, Ogg said.
In addition to creating fake documents of balance statements to show chamber officials, authorities said Huffar used several other schemes to steal, including using credit cards with other people’s identities, skimming from the profits of fundraising events and directly transferring money to her PayPal account from the chamber’s accounts.
In exchange for pleading guilty to two first-degree felonies, three other pending charges were dismissed. Huffar was reportedly taken into custody directly after submitting the plea agreement and cannot appeal the convictions or the punishment.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Levine, a chief in the DA’s Public Corruption Division, credited the Pasadena Police Department with continued assistance in building the case over four months.
“We wrote search warrants, forensically downloaded computers and issued more than 30 subpoenas in this case. Ultimately, we followed the evidence to fully investigate exactly what happened,” Levine said. “Unfortunately, there’s no restitution because she basically frittered the money away, living high on the hog in a way that most people simply can’t afford.”
Levine said small businesses and nonprofits are often vulnerable to embezzlement because they promote trusted employees who are not insured or bonded like other financial professionals. He advised that officials with these organizations put in robust checks and balances, including consistent audits, and also regularly check accounts directly on the bank websites instead of relying on paper documents that can be altered.
Levine also recommended that companies urge employees to take vacation time off every year so that company documents and expenditures are consistently reviewed by more than one individual.
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