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Upon Further Review – Latino Chamber Finances Still in Question

| News | September 7, 2017

Back in 2014, the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Chamber of Commerce announced in its September gala program the formation of the Santa Clarita Valley Latino Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“The mission and purpose of the Foundation is to support children, youth and families by providing effective, high-quality educational programs, workforce readiness programs and college readiness programs,” the program ad said. “The programs include scholarships, mentoring, leadership training, career day involvement, business workforce readiness, college preparation training and other services that benefit youth in the community.”

It received at least a $1,045 loan from the Latino Chamber, according to the Latino Chamber’s 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 Schedule O. Since current City Councilmember Bill Miranda was at the time CEO of the chamber and the foundation, it appears the chamber loaned itself the money. That same form shows the chamber finished with a negative $2 in net assets.

Yet, the Latino Chamber’s final return, in 2015, lists on a Form 990 Schedule N with $8,281 in “cash and receivables.”

Miranda did not return calls for comment to explain the discrepancy. SCV Chamber Chairman John Musella, who took responsibility for filing the final Latino Chamber’s tax returns, explained it in an email as, “That was the loan that was written off.”

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Take away the $1,045 from the $8,281 and that leaves $7,236 unaccounted for. The 2015 tax forms do not indicate where that money went. In fact, every number on the form is a zero.

Pressed further about that money, Musella responded in another email, “As I said, that figure includes the loan, accounts receivables, assets, etc., that were written off, donated or disposed of.”

According to GuideStar, an information service specializing in reporting on U.S. non-profits, the IRS has revoked the non-profit status of the foundation, now called Santa Clarita Education, Inc., for failing to file tax forms for three years, 2013-15; and on July 26, the state Attorney General’s office sent a delinquency notice.

“Late fees will be imposed by the Registry of Charitable Trusts for each month or partial month for which the reports are delinquent,” the note says. “Directors, trustees, officers and return preparers responsible for failure to file these reports are also personally liable for payment of all late fees. Charitable assets cannot be used to pay these avoidable costs.”

According to a statement of information filed March 30, the officers listed are Miranda as CEO, Bob Pacheco as secretary and Marlon Roa as CFO. Pacheco previously distanced himself from Santa Clarita Education, Inc.

This raises additional concerns, according to Steve Petzold, a Saugus realtor who has been a vocal critic of how the chambers conduct their business.

“The Latino Chamber should have attempted to recover the money from itself,” he said. “You just can’t write it off. You have to attempt collection. Look at the procedures. The board is supposed to sit down and account for the assets and attempt to collect. Bill was dealing between himself and the Latino Chamber.”

Musella wrote in an email, “It is my understanding that it is being (or has been) shut down as they never got it fully off the ground. It has nothing to do with the SCV Chamber and we were never responsible for anything related to it.”

There are other aspects of the 2014 Form 990 that remain unanswered.

The form lists no membership dues and assessments. There’s a discrepancy, considering the Latino Chamber’s own Statement of Financial Income and Expense (FIE) for July-December 2014 lists $2,050 in membership income. The FIE form is the same one Roa gave the Gazette in May after Miranda told Roa to find some numbers. Roa found the FIE, submitted it to Miranda, who approved it, leading to the question, where did that money go?

Under “Salaries, other compensation, and employee benefits,” Form 990 the Latino chamber paid $3,651. Yet, on the second page, none of the eight officers listed show having been paid.

Furthermore, the FIE shows $6,000 paid to the CEO, but the Form 990 does not show Miranda as having received any money.

Finally, under “Occupancy, rent, utilities, and maintenance,” Form 990 shows the Latino Chamber paid $15,549. But the Latino chamber occupied no building. It existed as an entity without a physical space. What occupancy or rent could there be? Is it related to the $14,378.63 it paid the Hyatt for its Sept. 2014 gala?

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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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