A team of federal examiners has recommended the removal of the director of the city's major Cuban refugee resettlement program, finding that he did not keep adequate records of how $450,000 in federal funds for the program have been spent.
Members of the board of directors of the Educational Organization for United Latin Americans (EOFULA)--the agency responsible for settling 180 Cuban men in Washington--said earlier this week that the director, Pedro DeJesus, will no longer have day-to-day responsibility for the refugee program.
Board members said they were removing DeJesus from the post, while DeJesus said he was voluntarily stepping aside. He asserted that the expenditures were proper and can be documented. No criminal activity was alleged by the federal examiners.
A spokesman for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is examining the organization's records, said all funding to the program may be cut off "if they don't satisfy our concerns" about how the funds have been spent. A total of $800,000 has been authorized for the program, of which EOFULA has received about $450,000 thus far.
The inquiry followed allegations by the director of the D. C. Office of Latino Affairs that EOFULA brought a number of alcoholic, unskilled Cuban refugees to the city and then did "little or nothing" to help them. The federal refugee office said, however, that it had planned the examination before the city's allegations were made last December.
"It's a mess. It's just poor management or not-acceptable management procedures for using federal money," said Oliver Cromwell, spokesman for the resettlement office, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He said the federal examiners found records, for example, that showed that $20,000 had been paid out for a "bank loan," $11,000 for "building repairs," and $4,000 for "groceries." But he said there was "no itemization" for how that money was spent.
"It was all just in a blank," Cromwell said. "Some things they don't have receipts for. They did not have any justification for the way they used the money in an itemized, orderly fashion." He said the examiners also could not find adequate personnel records.
He added that the team has not yet completed its review of the organization and that it has only talked informally with EOFULA's 10-member board of directors. The examiners "didn't see anything criminal. It's just a question of poor management," he said.
DeJesus said in an interview this week that the organization is now documenting all its expenditures for the federal team. He showed a reporter a series of folders which he said contained the financial files of the organization. Each folder held a variety of documents, from gas and electric bills to parking ticket and food receipts, in no apparent chronology.
He said the federal office is already holding up funds for his program and that he and members of the board have had to bring food from their own homes so that the refugees can eat. If the federal office terminates the program completely, DeJesus said, the Cubans will be "on the streets" without food, housing or any supervision.
Cromwell said the federal team told the EOFULA board of directors that they had three options: Find a new director, voluntarily relinquish the program to another agency or terminate the program completely.
Carlos Rosario, an EOFULA board member and an official of the D.C. Office on Aging, said the board chose to seek a new director. He said, however, that DeJesus will continue to oversee the other programs EOFULA runs for Hispanic senior citizens with $200,000 in city and private funding. DeJesus was previously making $45,000 a year. His new salary has not been decided, board members said.
Last December the city's Office of Latino Affairs accused EOFULA of failing to feed, clothe or house the refugees adequately or to provide employment and alcohol rehabilitation services for them. Latino Affairs director Willie Vazquez called on the federal government to terminate the program.
DeJesus said the federal resettlement office caused some of the problems for his program by sending Cubans who suffered from alcoholism or had other psychological problems. All of the refugees in the program came to the United States in the 1980 "freedom flotilla" from Cuba. Most had spent several months in refugee camps at military bases before EOFULA brought them to Washington.