In 2017 Susana Tantico, a nonprofit official from Seattle, spent $546.66 at the buffet in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for her family and herself. How do I even know this, and why do I care? Well, last week, Tantico admitted in Seattle federal court that she paid for the repas with funds she embezzled from a former employer.
The meals at the towering Mandalay Bay are only a tiny portion of the more than $3 million Tantico fessed up to stealing over 12 years from two Seattle nonprofits she served as finance director. That wasn’t anywhere near the total of all the ill-gotten gains Tantico acknowledged spending in Sin City, which apparently included unsuccessful gambling. But it was a specific amount of Las Vegas Strip excess that federal prosecutors in Seattle chose to include in the plea agreement she signed. There’s nothing like a specific amount of Las Vegas Strip excess to spice up any story.
Tantico, 62, becomes the newest candidate for my long-running list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks who have been in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that bug light of mischief called Las Vegas (in this instance, the spending of money stolen from someplace else). The list is a pointed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority used for many years.
You can see previous nominees nearby. A number of them are, like Tantico, people who hot-footed it to Vegas to spend their purloined loot.
This account is drawn primarily from public documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle (where I lived before becoming New To Las Vegas), a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office there, and nonprofit filings with the Internal Revenue Service. A few details come from Seattle media coverage like this story by Lauren Girgis in The Seattle Times and a report posted on the website of the Seattle public radio station KUOW by Amy Radil, who has been following the case for some time.
Tantico, who lives in suburban Seattle, worked for 21 years at Country Doctor Community Health Centers, a nonprofit that provides medical services in inner-city Seattle to disadvantaged populations. She was finance director for about half that time. In 2020 she moved to the same position at Community Passageways, a nonprofit that focuses on keeping teenagers out of jail. She was fired in 2022 after an FBI investigation.
From the May 16 federal press release announcing Tantico’s guilty plea to two counts of wire fraud:
Between 2011 and June 2020, Tantico embezzled nearly $2.3 million from [Country Doctor Community Health Centers]. She used the non-profit’s debit and credit cards to withdraw $1.6 million at casinos for gambling. She also used the debit and credit cards to pay for personal vacations, such as a $26,000 family trip to Disneyworld, and trips to Las Vegas and San Diego. Tantico also used the medical non-profit’s debit and credit cards for more than $83,000 worth of purchases at Nordstrom and $40,000 worth of purchases at Apple stores.
After running up the big bills, Tantico used the non-profit’s funds to pay the credit card bills and disguised the payments as legitimate expenses, such as medical supplies. Throughout this timeframe, Tantico told the non-profit auditors that she was aware of no fraud at the non-profit.
In 2020, Tantico went to work as Finance Director for a different non-profit [Community Passageways]–one with a focus on criminal justice issues. Tantico used more than $485,000 of the non-profit’s funds for gambling at casinos. She transferred $21,000 from the non-profit to her mortgage servicer to pay her home mortgage. She also transferred money to her personal bank account. Tantico then altered the bank records to hide the embezzlement. … In all, Tantico stole nearly $893,000 from the non-profit.
The plea agreement itself that Tantico signed has a little more detail about her 2017 Las Vegas spending. The $546.66 tab at Mandalay Bay came as part of $24,971.42 embezzled to pay for a 2017 “family trip” to San Diego and Las Vegas. The Las Vegas portion also involved $1,393.16 in goods bought at a Nike store and “cash withdrawals at casinos” in unspecified amounts. To cover the theft, she falsely expensed the charges as medical supplies on Country Doctor’s books as “Pharmacy Supplies 340B.”
During 2017, according to Country Doctor’s IRS Form 990 filing, Tantico received total compensation as finance director of $124,448.
All told, according to the plea agreement, from 2016 to May 2020, using Country Doctor’s debit or credit cards, she fraudulently withdrew $1,674,514.45 of Country Doctor funds at unspecified casinos in unspecified cities–“which funds she then gambled and lost.”
Her thievery continued after she moved in the summer of 2020 from Country Doctor to Community Passageways, including withdrawal of “at least” $485,864.19 at ATMs at unspecified casinos that she “then used to gamble or pay for other expenses.” At some point Community Passageway’s bank called her to inquire about the large amount of casino ATM withdrawals. Her reply: The nonprofit held “youth program” fundraising events at casinos and “the cash withdrawals were for prize giveaways.”
I can’t find recent financial statements for either nonprofit. Country Doctor’s Form 990 for 2020 reported total revenue of $37 million. For the same year, the much-smaller Community Pathways’ Form 990 listed total revenue of $4 million. The filing said Tantico was paid $45,349 for the half-year she was there in 2020 and indicated “finance director” was a part-time position. Both nonprofits say they since have tightened up their financial procedures.
Although this has nothing to do directly with Tantico’s case, Country Doctor has an interesting only-in-Seattle history. It dates back to the fiery times of the late 1960s featuring social unrest, anti-war protests and the rise of organized black power. The Seattle Black Panther Party was moving toward providing local health and nutrition services in underserved neighborhoods under what became the Carolyn Downs Medical Clinic. An anti-war group, Seattle Liberation Front, also started addressing health care issues in poor areas under the name Country Doctor. In 1988, the two nonprofits merged and still run a network of facilities.
Back to the immediate matter at hand. In accepting Tantico’s guilty plea to two counts of wire fraud, U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Vaughan said in open court at the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle on May 16 that Tancico would need treatment for a gambling addiction.
A federal wire fraud conviction can carry hard time of up to 20 years. In addition to $3.3 million in restitution from Tantico for the two nonprofits, federal prosecutors, citing her acceptance of responsibility for her actions, are recommending a 41-month sentence in the slammer when she is sentenced on August 15. The prison food won’t be as good as that at Mandalay Bay.