Woman with local ties embezzles money from charity

Foundation of Second Chances holds its grand opening on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in Bakersfield, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Melissa Wyatt, executive director of Foundation for Second Chances, pleaded guilty to embezzlement from her own charity.

Wyatt grew up in Bakersfield and founded the charity organization in Los Angeles in 2004. The mission was to provide alternative education to at-risk youth. In 2016, she received a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for $1.1 million.

She then opened a second location in Bakersfield in 2017. Mayor Karen Goh even attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The grant was to fund a program called YouthBuild and would run out of the Bakersfield location. YouthBuild was meant to provide project-based learning for teens and young adults to gain workforce skills. At the end of the program they were to receive a high-school diploma or equivalent and an industry-recognized credential in construction or other fields.

Most of the grant money never made it to those in need.

For seven months after receiving the grant in November 2017, Wyatt used the money for things such as personal credit cards and mortgages, home improvements and renovations for personal properties, meals, entertainment, and even a trip to Iceland.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Arkow, “The government believes that she embezzled about $350,000 to $375,000 of those [grant] funds.”

In December Wyatt pleaded guilty to the embezzlement charge and agreed to pay restitution. She is awaiting further sentencing, which will take place in early May. Wyatt could face up to two years in prison.

Foundation for Second Chances no longer has a location in Bakersfield but still appears to be operating in Los Angeles. The L.A. office has not returned any calls for comment and only one board member could be reached. She said she hasn’t served as a board member for the organization in a few years and did not want to be identified.

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