Last week, The Sun put out an update on the case of the State of Florida vs. Susana Arneson, in which Arneson and her husband, Douglas O’Berry, were being investigated for embezzling roughly $1.5 million in funds from the Humane Society of Nature Coast. A list of forfeited items believed to have been purchased with these ill-gotten gains accompanied the report.
Days later, on October 12, 2023, Arneson appeared before Judge Daniel Merritt for sentencing on the charges of Money Laundering – Financial Transactions of $100,000 or more and Organized Fraud – $50,000 or more. Prior to her sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Arneson had requested 20 years of probation and no prison time. Prosecutors, however, sought a 15-year sentence with the Florida Department of Corrections. What resulted was a clean middle ground. The verdict involved time in prison, but was not as harsh as it could have been.
According to a press release from Hernando County Sheriff’s Office PIO Michael Terry, Judge Merritt Jr. ultimately sentenced Arneson to 90 months (seven and a half years) with the Florida Department of Corrections with 611 days of credit for time served. Arneson has remained in incarceration at the Hernando County Detention Center since her arrest early last year, on February 9, 2022. The sheriff’s office’s case involving Arneson’s husband, O’Berry, however, remains open.
“That felt like justice, I assume,” Lori Bainum said. “The whole thing is kind of sad, especially for her, but we’re moving along, and we’ll be better and stronger because of it. We’re just ready to move forward and kind of make better things happen for our community and all of our furry friends.”
With the case closed and the hearing in the rearview mirror, Bainum is ready to move on. A member of the board of directors at the Humane Society, Bainum, explained that before they realized the lump sum of money had been siphoned from their coffers, the local animal rescue was planning to use the funds to build a new building. The second phase of their growth plan, the “dog expansion,” was to follow up on their newest finished project: an administrative building focused on felines. Though there is no official timetable for completion, the canine-centric building would allow the shelter to increase its capacity from 17 to a total of 40 dogs.
“With this happening, we obviously had to stop in our tracks and regroup,” Bainum said. “But I have to say that we live in an amazing community, and we have awesome supporters, donors, volunteers, staff, and people who know the mission and just how vested we are in the community because we know taking care of the animals is part of showing the quality for everyone who lives in Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco Counties.”
Bainum would love for people to come out and take tours of their campus or even volunteer if they feel passionate about helping animals. Looking ahead, the Humane Society is excited to be hosting a fundraiser/gala to honor the 60th anniversary of its founding on February 17th of next year.