Attorney General Becerra Announces Sentencing in AIDS Research Alliance Fraud Scheme

Monday, February 8, 2021
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the sentencing of Donnelly Montenegro, former acting Chief Operating Officer of the AIDS Research Alliance (ARA). Montenegro pleaded guilty in December to grand theft by fraudulent pretenses after being charged in a 22-count complaint. Montenegro falsely portrayed himself as an acting ARA staff member in order to steal $316,000 from a donor’s estate. As part of his plea, Montenegro received a two-year sentence today in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

“When people generously donate their hard-earned money, they’re hoping to support a cause they care about. They shouldn’t find themselves in the middle of a reckless scheme to take their money for selfish gain,” said Attorney General Becerra. “At the California Department of Justice, we take seriously our duty to protect good-hearted people from this type of fraud. It was important to hold Donnelly Montenegro accountable."

The Los Angeles County-based ARA was a nonprofit research organization dedicated to developing better treatments for those affected by HIV and creating an HIV cure strategy. The ARA dissolved in early 2015, but Montenegro retained access to the organization’s records, and as a part of his scheme, led people to believe the organization was still in operation, rather than defunct, in order to obtain and then launder hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations intended for AIDS research from 2015 to 2017. Montenegro used the stolen donations for personal expenses including investments, credit card bills, and firearms. The 22-count felony complaint against Montenegro included six counts of grand theft, three counts of identity theft, and 13 counts of money laundering. 

The investigation of Montenegro was conducted by the Division of Law Enforcement’s White Collar Investigations Team (WCIT), which tackles white collar crimes like those that can bankrupt companies, devastate families by depleting their life savings, or cost government agencies billions of dollars. WCIT worked closely with the Fraud and Special Prosecutions (FSP) Section, which prosecutes complex criminal cases, primarily related to financial, securities, mortgage, and environmental fraud, public corruption, “underground economy” offenses, including tax and revenue fraud and counterfeiting; and human trafficking.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting public safety and taking on financial crime. Last November, the Attorney General announced the arrest and arraignment of nine individuals on 136 felony counts for allegedly operating an advance fee mortgage relief scam that claimed to prevent the foreclosure of properties throughout Southern California. In October 2020, Attorney General Becerra announced arrests and charges following a multiagency investigation into a large scheme in the Bay Area to buy stolen goods and resell them for profit. In July 2020, the Attorney General announced arrests and charges against Christopher Mancuso, John Black, and Joseph Tufo for allegedly operating a multimillion-dollar investment fraud scheme that targeted more than 70 victims around the world. That same month, he announced a two-year jail sentence and tens of thousands of dollars in restitution as a result of the takedown of a bogus investment scheme. Attorney General Becerra also secured nearly $1 million in restitution and seized approximately $775,000 in counterfeit apparel. In June 2020, the Attorney General secured a felony tax evasion conviction and seized more than $1.5 million in unlicensed tobacco products.

If you believe you or someone you know has been the victim of fraud, you can report it here:

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