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Humane Society executive director pleads not guilty to theft, securities fraud

The executive director of the Humane Society of El Paso has turned himself in to authorities in Franklin County, Ohio, on charges of theft and securities fraud.

Luke Westerman was arraigned in court Monday afternoon, where he entered a plea of not guilty. His bond was set at $50,000, along with a recognizance bond of $20,000. Westerman posted bond for each, jail records show.

On December 27, 2018, a grand jury in Franklin County, Ohio indicted Westerman on 19 counts of theft and unlawful securities practices. Westerman was in charge of a venture capital firm that he founded in Columbus, Ohio, prior to coming to El Paso to work with the Humane Society in Dec. 2017.

Some of the allegations against Westerman were made in 2013.

Prosecutors say Westerman solicited more than $700,000 from ten residents in Ohio and allegedly misrepresented the status of the investments in false account statements. Authorities accuse him of using some of the funds – about $300,000 – for personal expenses.

In a statement sent to ABC-7, the Humane Society of El Paso Board of Directors said its own investigation has shown that Westerman, acting in his official capacity, has in no way compromised the financial integrity of the Humane Society of El Paso.

The board added Westerman has been given time by the board to deal with his personal legal matters, adding, “Our shelter animals remain our main focus and we ask the community to keep the best interest of our animals in mind.”

ABC-7 also received a statement from the former board president, Leticia Jimenez. Jimenez said that she resigned from the board in 2018 because she disagreed with how the board handled Westerman once they learned of his legal issues.

Jimenez said in her statement, “Unfortunately the Board did not wish to take further action. It is even tougher knowing that the Board received fair warning months ago and any damage to the Humane Society could have been mitigated.”

ABC-7 called Westerman seeking comment about the allegations against him, but has not heard back.

The charges against Westerman are first, second and third degree felonies. The two first-degree felonies against him carry a sentence of 3 to 11 years in prison if convicted.

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