The U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement has decided to terminate funding for the city's major Cuban refugee program after finding that about $20,000 in federal funds for the program were spent improperly.
The action came after a team of federal examiners reviewed the accounts of the Educational Organization for United Latin Americans (EOFULA), the agency that received $464,414 in federal funds to settle 150 Cuban men here.
A report issued yesterday by the refugee office, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also accused EOFULA of not keeping adequate records of expenditures and not following federal guidelines on purchasing, procurement and program personnel.
The action means that EOFULA could lose as much as $335,586 for the refugee resettlement program. The organization operates a separate multiservice program for Hispanic seniors supported by $200,000 in city and private funds. That program will not be affected by the federal funds cutoff announced yesterday.
Pedro DeJesus, who directed the refugee program until two weeks ago, accused the federal resettlement office of trying to use EOFULA as a scapegoat for bad publicity the local resettlement program has received.
DeJesus denied that any improper expenditures had been made.
Two weeks ago, the federal resettlement office called for the removal of DeJesus. Rosita Melendez, president of EOFULA's board of directors, said yesterday that a decision had been reached to dismiss DeJesus, but that no date had been set.
The report issued yesterday said that a total of $800,000 had been authorized for EOFULA, but to date the organization has received $464,414 for two separate programs: one to resettle 130 elderly Cuban men and another to provide alcoholism counseling to 20 refugees.
In their review of EOFULA's accounts, federal examiners questioned several expenditures, including one of $1,500 to the Ontario Theater on Columbia Road NW for expenses related to an EOFULA fund-raiser that was never held.
The Ontario is owned by EOFULA board member Carlos Rosario, a community development officer for the D.C. Office on Aging, which provides most of the funds for EOFULA's senior citizen program.
Rosario said yesterday he knew nothing about the $1,500 payment. DeJesus said it was made to cover the costs of showing a film at the theater for an EOFULA fund-raiser planned for last December, then postponed indefinitely. The money has not been returned, DeJesus said.
The report also questioned the expenditure of $58.30 in federal funds for a broach which DeJesus said was presented as a gift to Marcela Davila, a former president of the EOFULA board, when her term ended.
The report says EOFULA has overspent its budget for the alcoholism program by $36,741 and still has six months of services to provide for the refugees. EOFULA also owes about 15 current or past employes back salaries, according to Melendez, the current board president.
Oliver Cromwell, spokesman for the federal resettlement office, said the EOFULA refugee program would probably be functioning for another six months, so that it could meet its obligations in rehabilitation services for 20 alcoholic Cubans.