The Arizona Attorney General’s Office says Melissa Talal has been sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation for stealing money from the Cancer Support Community Arizona.
Talal was arrested in 2015, accused of using a CSCAZ credit card to make at least $150,000 in unauthorized personal purchases between 2007 and 2012.
"This was a heartless crime," said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Talal stole thousands of dollars in donations that were intended to assist Arizonans battling cancer. It was important to obtain justice for those fighting this horrible disease and for Cancer Support Community Arizona's staff, their donors, and volunteers."
Cancer Support Community Arizona is a non-profit that provides support to people diagnosed with cancer, and their families. Staff say they feel betrayed that Talal broke the organization's trust it worked to build with the community, donors and the people they serve.
“Our currency is the trust of our community. Ms. Talal embezzling funds from the organization--it really could upend the organization," said Debbie DiCarlo, the new executive director for Cancer Support Community Arizona.
Talal was reportedly the only person with access to the non-profit’s financial records. According to the Attorney General’s Office, Talal also manipulated payroll records to pay herself more than $40,000 that she was not entitled to.
Talal will now serve two years in prison, but the organization knows it may take longer to rebuild trust.
“When something like this happens, it’s a betrayal. It’s a betrayal of trust, it was a betrayal of staff friendships," DiCarlo said.
Only one staff member who worked with Talal remains. The organization provided ABC15 with a statement that was read in court from that employee, Tracy Thurston, who is the program director.
It reads in part, "every dollar that she took meant a service that we couldn’t provide, less people we could help and less impact we could have on sharing that burden of cancer in our community."
DiCarlo said the organization has felt the backlash of broken trust, not receiving some grants they normally would.
“Naturally, people have questions. I would have questions myself. So this is something that we want to be very open and transparent about," DiCarlo said.
DiCarlo said there is now multiple oversight for every donation that’s made and every credit card expense, so that something like this doesn’t happen again.