She stole money from her nonprofit and spent much of it on her dogs. Now she owes $138,000

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WEST PALM BEACH — A former Boca Raton charity director accused of using more than $100,000 of her foundation's money to pay for the care and grooming of her dogs pleaded guilty to grand theft this month.

Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss placed Mary Wong on seven years of probation and ordered her to pay $138,000 in restitution to Feed the Children, a charity affiliated with Office Depot. Prosecutors dropped three counts of money laundering.

Wong's foundation, formerly known as the Office Depot Foundation, made its mark with programs that gave children backpacks and school supplies and helped women business leaders.

It separated from Office Depot in 2017 and changed its name to the Listen Learn Care Foundation after Office Depot's management decided to stop using the foundation as its independent charitable giving arm.

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According to court records, Wong, 63, of suburban Lake Worth Beach, must begin making minimum monthly payments of $500 on April 1. She may apply for early termination of her probation after four years if she has paid the amount in full.

In a statement released through her attorney Monday, Wong disputed prior accounts that she used the foundation's money for personal expenses. Wong said the money was spent to rescue sick puppies in danger of being euthanized.

"After reflecting upon my tenure as President of the Office Depot and Listen, Learn, Care Foundations, I arrived at some realizations," the statement read. "The body of work achieved during my two-and-a-half decade tenure made extremely positive differences to the lives of thousands of people and animals. I am proud of the community programs we created and, most importantly, positive impacts we were able to achieve during this time. As noted on the record by the state, none of the funding in dispute was used for my personal gain or for my personal pets.

Wong added that "my biggest regret, for which I have paid personally and professionally, is the error of not obtaining written board approval for the funding utilized to save sick puppies that would have otherwise been forgotten and euthanized."

Boca Raton police arrested Wong in 2020 on money laundering and grand theft charges after they alleged she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit's accounts, using the money, in part, to pay for dog grooming and other pet-care related expenses.

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Police records showed that she spent at least $187,296.47 of the foundation's money in the way of checks and debit-card purchases using money taken from petty cash accounts.

Investigators say the payments were made to two pet rescue organizations, including the Tri County Humane Society, as well as various pet supply retailers.

According to a man who watched her dogs, Wong at first had four dogs and paid $400 a week for a company known as Pet Nanny and More to care for them. Before long, she had 18 dogs, and those weekly payments rose as high as $1,200, according to police.

In addition to bringing charges against Wong, authorities also arrested the foundation's bookkeeper, Raquel Hart, alleging that she altered bank statements to conceal over payments that were not board approved. Hart pleaded guilty last year to a lesser charge of grand theft of $20,000 or more, a second-degree felony. Her sentencing was deferred when she agreed to cooperate in the state's case against Wong. Hart is scheduled to be sentenced in May.

At the time of Wong and Hart's arrests, foundation officials said they were ceasing all of the foundation's initiatives and preparing to dissolve it. State business records as of January show the foundation remains active, although online records show that its Boca Raton location has permanently closed.

In an interview with The Palm Beach Post in 2018, Wong described herself as a "dog lover and an arts-and-crafts enthusiast." She said the Listen Learn Care Foundation was dedicated to helping others achieve their goals.

"It's important for women to take the time to make themselves the priority," Wong told The Post in the 2018 interview.


This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Ex-Boca Raton charity director who stole money must give charity $138K