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Habitat for Cats leader facing removal after arrest for stealing from the charity

The president of a prominent cat rescue organization is accused of stealing more than $23,000 from the Rochester charity — using the money to pay her dentist, TV subscriptions and for holiday decorations.

Lauren Kunz-Chateauneuf, 45, leads Habitat for Cats, a nonprofit and all-volunteer group that works to find homes for feral cats and pays for spaying and neutering to reduce their numbers.

She was arrested this week on a felony charge of third-degree grand larceny. And Attorney General Letitia James asked a judge to remove her from office, along with a pair of board members she appointed. James wants all three banned from leading or forming a nonprofit in New York state for the next 10 years.

A Habitat volunteer and director reported Kunz-Chateauneuf to the Charities Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office last month after discovering the spending on an agency credit card.

The alleged embezzlement spans Kunz-Chateauneuf's term as president, which began in 2019, and includes purchases ranging from jewelry to fidget spinners and other children's toys. She also paid her home utility bills, and allegedly wrote herself a series of checks last year for “consulting fees,” records show.

“She has exercised total control over the organization without board oversight,” James wrote to the court, “refusing to share financial information or access to social media or conduct board meetings, treating board members and volunteers with rudeness and disrespect, and putting her personal interests ahead of the mission of the organization, which has suffered as a result.”

The group has lost money two of the past three years, records show. Financial reporting to the state was sporadic. And James wrote that at least four board members have resigned, citing concerns over her handling of the group’s donations and a hostile work environment.

State law gives the attorney general the power to dissolve a nonprofit. But James notes that Habitat for Cats has existed without problems for most of its 25 years.

Kunz-Chateauneuf did not immediately respond to messages. Calls to Habitat for Cats are met with a recorded message that the group is unable to respond to new requests as it is “overrun with pending requests from across the county.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.