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Messy Merger

| News | April 20, 2017

Back in September 2014, the Latino Chamber of Commerce held one of its more successful gala fundraisers. Memories being what they are, people aren’t sure exactly how much it netted. Estimates range from $9,000 to $17,000, but regardless, it was considered a successful event.

How much was really raised, and where that money went, however, remain a mystery. According to activist Steve Petzold, who emailed the Gazette a copy of the letter he received from the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS does not have the chamber’s Form 990 from the fiscal years ending June 30, 2015 and June 30, 2016. This is the form that provides the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization.

All of the involved parties, from the gala chairpersons to the relevant chamber officers, spoke with the Gazette and tried their best to recall. But their reports resulted in several conflicting stories on the record, mostly about the Latino Chamber’s last months before becoming part of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce in early 2015.

 Gala Memories

Gloria Mercado-Fortine and Henry Rodriguez chaired the event. Current city councilmember Bill Miranda was the president and CEO at the time, and he recalled staying out of the planning stages because “Henry and Gloria wanted autonomy and we said, ‘Fine.’”

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Mercado-Fortine said the autonomy covered only the program. “We decided on the speakers. We decided on the entertainment,” she said. “As CEO, he attended every meeting, and so did (treasurer) Marlon Roa.”

Regardless, Miranda said, “I remember (the gala) well. We probably had 300 attendees, and the average attendee probably paid $75.”

Roa agreed that the event “went well,” but since it was held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia, “expenses were high,” he said.

 How Much Money?

Based on Miranda’s recollection, the gala grossed at least $22,500; after that, things get cloudy. Mercado-Fortine recalled Southern California Edison and the Gas Company donating $10,000 each, something Miranda disputed.

“I think Gloria is so far off base as to what was raised,” he said. “Ten thousand dollars from two sources? Are you kidding me? That’s more than we ever raised at any gala.”

Roa estimated the gala netted between $9,000 and $10,000. “That’s a more reasonable number,” Miranda said.

Rodriguez said Miranda and Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers. “We were, more than anything, planning the actual event,” he said. “I wasn’t responsible for the financials of it all. … Bill and Marlon, I didn’t step on their toes over that.”

 Who Should Have Filed with the IRS?

According to CPA Randy Michel, a partner with WongHolland LLP in Woodland Hills, a nonprofit with a fiscal year ending June 30 must file Form 990 by Nov. 15, or Feb. 15 if granted an extension.

But since the IRS has no record of receiving those forms, somebody didn’t do the job. Now it’s hard to find someone to take responsibility.

Roa said that since the two chambers had merged by June 30, it would have fallen to then-SCV Chamber President and CEO Terri Crain to ensure the documents were filed.

Crain said either Roa or Bob Pacheco, a CPA, was supposed to file with the IRS, but it also could have fallen to then-SCV chamber treasurer Steve Chegwin. A source told the Gazette that Chegwin had begun the process, but Crain told him to stop because Roa was going to do it.

Rodriguez said Miranda would have taken care of it. Miranda said Roa would have given the figures to Pacheco and Pacheco would have been responsible for filing. But Pacheco had already left the Latino chamber in protest of the merger (Pacheco has steadfastly refused to comment on any chamber matter).

To this day, it appears no one has filed. “I don’t know what the repercussions would be” for failing to file, Michel said.

According to the IRS website, the penalty for failing to file is $20 a day, with a maximum of either $10,000 or 5 percent of the organization’s gross receipts for that year, whichever is less.

And Finally…

The merger between the two chambers happened around January 2015, or about four months after the gala. According to Roa and Crain, only between $1,000 and $2,000 came over from the Latino to the SCV chamber. No matter the amount, Crain said any monies would have been deposited into the SCV Chamber’s general fund; in this case, however, she recalled that money instead was put into membership to help fund the Latino members who were now SCV Chamber members.

That leaves thousands of dollars unaccounted for, and with no IRS forms to explain, one question remains.

Where’s the money?

 

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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