Brawl in the family

LULAC's show of support for Dr. Yvonne Gonzalez hides a bitter feud within the ranks

The ads on 107.9 FM stated that proceeds from the concert series would go to a national LULAC scholarship fund.

"The ads didn't say 'LULAC Council 100,'" Salinas says. "They said 'LULAC.'"
That indicated to Salinas that anyone could apply for the scholarship. So Salinas, a mother of two teenagers, asked her council president, Saldana, how to apply for the money.

Saldana went to Council 100, which he knew to be sponsoring the event in downtown Dallas' Artists Square. When he asked how people could apply for the scholarship money, he claims, he got no answers. Instead, Council 100 members got defensive--claiming they didn't have to disclose any information about their fundraising activities, while adding that they had "nothing to hide."

Saldana's search for information was complicated by the concert series' confusing parentage. While LULAC Council 100 officially sponsors the series, the host organization listed on the Arts District event application, filed in early summer, is the "Hispanic Institute for Progress," or HIP. Greg Vaquera, director of LULAC's District III, and Marcos Rincon are listed as this organization's contact persons.

Internal Revenue Service records show that the Hispanic Institute for Progress was set up in Dallas in 1990 as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization under section 501 (c)(3) of the federal tax code. This status allows the institute to raise funds and receive tax-deductible donations from sponsors.

It is not uncommon for LULAC councils to set up separate nonprofits for use in fundraising. According to Council 272 president Leonard Chaires of Dallas, his council has a nonprofit set up specifically to raise scholarship money. But the Hispanic Institute for Progress is different because it doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of the national LULAC organization. "Anytime something like that happens, I shy away from it," Chaires says.

Because the institute was set up under the federal tax code for nonprofit organizations, some of its financial records must be made available for examination upon request.

Saldana, believing he was being stonewalled, then put in a formal, written request for the information under open-records laws. Since Council 100 was producing the concert series under the auspices of HIP, Saldana believed he was entitled to the information.

He asked for a full accounting of proceeds from the concert series, a list of scholarship recipients, and information on HIP itself--which Saldana claims he'd never heard of.

But several months later, Saldana says, he still hasn't received any information from Council 100 or HIP. Furthermore, after making inquiries in the Latino communities, he hasn't been able to find anyone who's actually received a LULAC scholarship from Council 100--except for the son of Richard Sambrano, a member of Council 100. Sambrano admits that his son got a scholarship, but he doesn't think there's anything wrong with that. "He's paid that back many times," he says.

Throughout its history, scholarships have been a key ingredient in LULAC's mission to reach out to its targeted community of Hispanics. Since its inception in 1973, the LULAC National Educational Service Centers program has given more than $8 million in scholarships to some 12,000 students.

Individual councils that raise money for LULAC scholarships, however, are entrusted with distributing the money themselves.

These councils are required to report their financial comings and goings to the national LULAC office in El Paso, which, in theory, should provide some accountability. But Larry Trejo, legal counsel for LULAC national, says that some councils don't, making it difficult to track funds.

(The Dallas Observer requested HIP's annual filing with the IRS from both the federal agency and Council 100 president Rene Martinez on August 11. To date, neither source has come up with the records. The IRS claimed that it will take several months to locate and retrieve the information.)

Council 100 members, for their part, say they're not stonewalling; they'll get the information together. They just don't know when.

What they don't understand is how Saldana's request for information has metamorphosed into allegations of financial wrongdoing involving members of Council 100.

Some of those members counter that their sister chapter is simply jealous. "They're making an issue out of nothing," says Martinez, Council 100's president. "It's celo [greed]. Do they have any money in their coffers? No."

The attack against Council 100's integrity is especially hurtful, Martinez says, because Hector Flores and others have tried to help 4496 get on its feet. "Hector helped these guys get incorporated, he nominated them for Council of the Year," Martinez says. "And all of a sudden for them to challenge his character--he is really hurt personally."

Martinez, who says he has known Saldana "all his life," is equally concerned about a perceived change in Saldana over the past few months. "I've noticed a very dramatic shift in Gehrig's character," Martinez says, "and I think the Masons have really influenced him. It's a very secretive organization." Saldana is a member of the Gibraltar Masonic Lodge in Oak Cliff.

It seems that LULAC's fraternal war is full of such conspiracy theories.

The Tejano concert series has featured high-profile Tejano bands and attracted corporate funding from Budweiser and Eagle Honda, but even big names don't always guarantee hefty profits, says Marcos Rincon, the event's coordinator and a member of Council 100.

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