Former Santa Rosa nonprofit director suspected of embezzlement

Lisa Fatu is suspected of taking at least $53,000 in funds from her employer, Social Advocates for Youth.|

A former director of a Santa Rosa nonprofit that provides services to homeless and at-risk youth was arrested Thursday on suspicion of embezzling at least $53,000 from the organization, officials said.

Police arrested Lisa Fatu at about 8:30 a.m. during a traffic stop near Piner High School, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said.

Fatu, the former director of youth crisis services at Social Advocates for Youth, or SAY, is suspected of embezzling funds from the prominent Sonoma County nonprofit, where authorities said the 41-year-old had worked for about 20 years.

Investigators also arrested Fatu’s roommate, Anastacia Matavale, 29, who police said knew about Fatu’s embezzlement and was willingly benefiting from it.

The women are also suspected of conspiring to commit a felony, police said.

In July, SAY announced it had discovered “financial irregularities” that had occurred over a matter of weeks, in programs related to its youth crisis and career services.

At that time, SAY announced “a high-level employee” had admitted to taking funds for personal use and that person was fired.

Fatu is suspected of using a SAY credit card to embezzle money over a period of five years.

Investigators haven’t yet reached a final total for how much money was taken, but Mahurin said the amount could be closer to $70,000.

“She used that money for personal items and personal services that were not related to her position at SAY,” Mahurin said, adding that the money was also used to pay for furniture and utility bills, including some in Matavale’s name.

Jail records show Fatu is scheduled to appear Monday in Sonoma County Superior Court. Matavale’s status wasn’t immediately available and it wasn’t clear if either had an attorney.

In 2021, Social Advocates for Youth ranked 63rd among the 100 largest Sonoma County nonprofits.

The organization operates Tamayo Village, a 25-bed facility in Santa Rosa that opened in 2005, offering affordable housing, coupled with education and job services for young adults. In 2015, the nonprofit added 63 more beds, plus services, for at-risk youth and young adults when it converted the former Warrack Hospital in Santa Rosa into the Finley Dream Center.

Social Advocates for Youth also operates the Dr. James E. Coffee House, a shelter for youths 18 and under, and its Dream Center emergency site is the only dedicated shelter for transition-age youth between San Francisco and the Oregon border.

In a 2019 interview with the North Bay Business Journal, Fatu said she oversaw programs for street outreach, human trafficking prevention and housing placement. At the time, she said she had a budget of $1.4 million.

On Thursday, SAY Board President Gina Belforte said an internal investigation is ongoing and the full extent of the organization’s financial losses hasn’t been determined.

“We worked really diligently not to cancel any programs,” she said.

In July, Belforte issued a statement saying SAY’s Board of Directors is “heartbroken” over the theft. She expressed a similar sentiment Thursday.

“I don’t know how you allegedly steal from youth that are homeless,” Belforte said.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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