Boots on Ground Volunteer Says Fraud Charges Against Founder & CEO is a Misunderstanding
A volunteer at the non-profit organization Boots on Ground is speaking out in defense of its CEO. The CEO, Venus Azevedo-Laboda, was indicted yesterday on wire fraud charges. Federal prosecutors said she used money donated to the organization for her own personal use.
Azevedo-Laboda founded Boots on Ground in 2014 to help veterans suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder. Her brother committed suicide two years earlier. He was a hospital corpsman in the navy who served in Afghanistan.
Federal prosecutors say Azevedo-Laboda purposely deposited money donated to help those veterans into her own personal bank account. They also say she used a Boots on Ground credit card to pay her personal bills. The total amount of money involved was $7,837 dollars, according to the indictment. Mary Foster, a volunteer at Boots on Ground, says Azevado’s character is impeccable.
"I truly believe in my heart that there's no foundation for any of this. There's an explanation for whatever they found,” she said.
Foster has worked side by side with Azevedo-Laboda for one and a half years after Foster's son was helped by Boots on Ground. Foster says everyone at Boots on Ground is a volunteer, including Azevedo-Laboda, the founder and CEO.
"She was given permission through the board to use any of those funds. She's been using her own funds out of her own bank account, personal bank account to do things for BOG,” Foster says.
Foster says the money Azevedo-Laboda deposited, or spent on personal bills, was a reimbursement for those expenditures.
"That's what the Board has done is reimburse her for expenditures she spent out of her own pocket. So any of the moneys that were used were those reimbursements. She's got receipts. She's got text messages, e-mail messages that she can prove her innocence,” Foster said.
Acevedo-Laboda has been issued a summons on the indictment. She is scheduled to be arraigned at the U.S. Court House in Erie on January 29.