ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque guardianship firm is facing a slew of federal charges.
Thursday, its co-founders went before a federal judge where he decided to release them.
Ayudando is an Albuquerque nonprofit that specialized in financial management services for hundreds of people with special needs. Now, it’s facing federal conspiracy, fraud, theft and money laundering charges.
The 28-count indictment filed earlier this month and sealed until Wednesday, names Ayudando’s co-founders Susan Harris, 70 and Sharon Moore, 62. Both are Albuquerque residents.
The indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Mexico alleges Ayudando, which means “helping” in Spanish, embezzled millions of dollars from the trust accounts of its clients to support the lavish lifestyles of its founders and their families, which included vacations and a $50,000 Mercedez Benz purchase.
Ayudando gets government benefit payments from Veteran Affairs and Social Security on behalf of its clients and acts as a fiduciary.
Wednesday, federal law enforcement agents arrested Harris and Moore.
U.S. Marshals have taken over control of Ayudando’s business operations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office called the case “all about the victims.”
For Casey Morris, his struggle with schizophrenia and PTSD has been a long road.
“It’s like a gerbil running around, one of those wheels, over and over again. My mind just plays pictures of childhood trauma. I went through more adult things as a kid before most people reach adult age,” Morris said.
He claims to have noticed some shady activities going on while he was a client for Ayudando Guardians, and wasn’t surprised to hear a federal indictment claiming the two co-founders were using client accounts to pay for lavish lifestyle items.
“They steal from people that are 250 percent below the poverty level, then they hold it against them and don’t even let them have food, so they can go on these vacations. It just blows my mind,” he said.
“That they’re frauding the very people they’re meant to help is appalling, especially when those victims are our nation’s veterans,” said Carl Scott, the special agent in charge of the investigation.
Thursday, prosecutors argued Harris and Moore are a flight risk saying they can’t be trusted.
The defense argued they have no criminal history and even offered up their homes’ equity as bond. Magistrate Judge Steve Yarbrough agreed with the defense.
Harris and Moore will be out on conditions of release.
Investigators say if convicted, Moor and Harris could face a maximum of 30 years in prison. The U.S. Attorney says they are still investigating this case and more charges could be coming as they search for more missing money.
Ayudando Guardian clients with questions about their accounts should call Ayudando Guardians which is being operated by the U.S. Marshals Service at 505-332-4357.
Clients can also direct their comments or concerns to the U.S. Attorney’s office at USANM.Ayudando@usdoj.gov or 505-346-6902