Three executives of Chicana Service Action Group have been charged for defrauding Los Angeles County upwards of $8.5 million.
The group has received more than $16 million in county funds between 2007 and 2014. Gloria Molina, national campaign co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, was one of the group’s earliest supporters and gives it credit for jumpstarting her political career.
The three people charged with fraud are chief executive officer Sophia Esparza, chief financial officer Silvia Gutierrez, and vice president Thomas Baiz, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Prosecutors allege that $1.8 million of public funds were used to support Esparza’s lavish lifestyle. She used taxpayer funds to charter a yacht, purchase an $81,873 Jaguar, and spend $145,653 on five years of rent at a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex described as, “crafted with a wealth of detail giving you the perfect setting for your luxurious California lifestyle.”
Previously the group had trouble renewing contracts with the county due to misbillings. Molina defended the troubles, saying that they were due to petty issues such as incorrect ZIP codes in filings to the county.
Molina, who has been described as one of the nation’s most powerful elected Latinas, had said in 2013 government hearing that the group had, “corrected all of their problems. And, more importantly, they paid back all the money.”
“We want to continue to be a partner,” said Esparza in that same meeting. According the District Attorney’s office, Esparza used public funds for Clippers and Dodgers season tickets, along with spending more taxpayer money on groceries, and a campaign fundraiser.
Prosecutors believe that Esparza created false Board of Director’s meeting minutes, in order to provide herself and fellow executives with salary and compensation packages. According tot he criminal complaint, Esparza listed several people as being board members without their knowledge or permission.
The group was founded in the 1970s to provide job training and services to area Latinas.
Attorneys Michael Nasatir, Victor Sherman and Matthew Lombard released a statement defending the group from the allegations, saying they are “based on a misunderstanding of the facts and a misinterpretation of the law by an overzealous prosecutor.”
“The result is that a wonderful organization has been destroyed leaving hundreds, if not thousands of people without services,” said the attorneys.
“This is really a huge disappointment, particularly because I did defend them,” said Molina regarding the allegations.
Hillary Clinton spoke highly of Molina in 2008, saying, “She has been a phenomenal leader for Los Angeles County and a strong voice for working families in California.”