Kam Wong, who led Municipal Credit Union (MCU), New York’s largest credit union (by members) through the 9/11 crisis, the Great Recession and Hurricane Sandy, was charged with fraud, embezzlement and aggravated identify theft in Manhattan federal court after he was arrested Tuesday.
Federal prosecutors said Wong, 62, of Long Island’s Valley Stream, allegedly stole millions of dollars from the state’s oldest credit union through various fraudulent schemes from 2013 to 2018, and spent $3.5 million of the money he embezzled on New York lottery tickets, according to a federal investigation. The former CEO was placed on administrative leave by the board of directors in February after receiving a recommendation from a special committee that was overseeing an internal investigation prompted by the criminal investigation.
The schemes included getting reimbursed for fake dental work; personal tax liabilities; millions in cash payments in lieu of long-term disability insurance payments and millions more for taxes to cover those payments; fake car repair bills on one of his luxury cars leased to him by the credit union; educational, housing and living expenses for two relatives; annual cash advances; ATM withdrawals and cash payments in place of 320 sick days he never used that violated his contract.
Wong generally deposited the funds from his schemes into an MCU account, from which, between July 2013 and January 2018, he then withdrew approximately $1.9 million via ATMs over the course of more than 2,500 transactions – an average of more than one and a half transactions per day.
On top of buying $3.5 million in lottery tickets from July 2013 to January 2018, he also borrowed money from two individuals to buy even more lottery tickets, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
In addition to his salary, his contract required the credit union to lease multiple high-end luxury cars for him, including a late-model Mercedes Benz, a Maserati Gran Turismo and most recently, a 2018 Ferrari California T.
Although federal investigators reported Wong’s annual salary was $684,137 as of January, MCU’s latest publicly-available 990 form for 2016 filed with the IRS showed Wong received total compensation of $5.9 million, which included $2.1 million in base compensation, $1.4 million in bonuses and incentives, $2.2 million in other reportable compensation, $75,919 in deferred compensation and $40,186 in nontaxable benefits.
Wong joined MCU in 1981 and became its CFO in 1989. He was instrumental in helping the credit union restore its operations following the 9/11 attacks. MCU’s headquarters building stood just a few yards from Ground Zero. He was named CEO in 2007 and led the credit union through the Great Recession and then Hurricane Sandy. Despite these substantial challenges, Wong managed to grow the credit union from $1.3 billion in assets and 294,542 members in 2007 to its current assets of $2.8 billion and 431,817 members.
At the end of 2017, MCU posted a net income gain of $17.5 million up from a $3 million net income gain in 2013, according to NCUA financial performance reports. Over the last five years, the credit union has shown growth in both loans and market share.
MCU continues to be financially sound with a 7.74% net worth at the end of the first quarter though its ROAA stood at 0.67%, according to NCUA financial performance reports.
Norman Kohn, who served as MCU’s chief compliance officer, was named acting president/CEO.
“The charges brought this morning by United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York against MCU President/CEO Kam Wong are deeply upsetting,” Kohn said in a prepared statement. “MCU was aware of the investigation and has been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Mr. Wong has been on administrative leave since Feb. 22, 2018. The credit union has alerted all relevant regulatory agencies and has been conducting its own internal investigation led by outside counsel. The credit union is not under investigation. We want to assure our members that MCU remains financially strong and committed to their needs.”
Wong became aware of the criminal investigation when he was questioned by federal agents on Jan. 18. They questioned him about payments he had received in connection to his long-term disability scheme. According to federal investigators, he made false and misleading statements about the payments.
“As Acting President and Chief Executive Officer, I want to assure you that the board and the management team continues to be committed to the important work we do for you day in and day out,” Kohn added. “MCU is as strong as it has ever been and we will continue to provide you, our valued members, with the committed and outstanding service you expect, and deserve, from us.”