Founder of non-profit enters not guilty plea in federal court

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The founder of an Erie non-profit appears in federal court today, and she is familiar to many.

Over the years, the Erie community has gotten to know Venus Azevedo-Laboda for her work with veterans, but today, several of those veterans showed up to her hearing; many saying they’re not surprised by the charges.

Azevedo-Laboda in the spotlight again, but this time, for a federal indictment.  She’s accused of embezzling more than $7,000 from the non-profit she created, ‘Boots on Ground’. 

Dozens of veterans filling the courtroom; some in support; many the opposite. 

Cynthia Trieber, Wife of Veteran, telling us, “Venus and I, and my husband actually, started Boots on Ground together, much to the surprise of pretty much everybody on the planet. My husband actually came up with the name while he was serving in Afghanistan, so I have worked with Venus on three separate occasions and left each time for very specific reasons.” 

According to a federal indictment, Azevedo-Laboda used funds donated to the organization for personal bills made out to several companies, including Time Warner, First Energy, and National Fuel.

She could face up to 20 years behind bars for each count of wire fraud.  

A former volunteer, Kathryn Knight, says she knew these charges would come eventually. “She would complain about not being able to pay her bills and then she would come in the next day and her nails would be done and her hair would be done and all of the sudden her cable is back on and, to me, that just didn’t make sense to me.” 

Her attorney reminds us that the allegations are just that; allegations, and nothing has been proven at this point.

Defense Attorney Chad Vilushis says, “It’s very early on in the investigation. We have a lot more that we need to learn, but the one thing I don’t need to learn is this; Venus has done a lot of good for veterans and veterans’ families in the past.” 

Azevedo-Laboda is entering a plea of not guilty.  There is no trial date scheduled.  But, both attorneys agreed that, as a condition of her bond, she must undergo a mental health evaluation.

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