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SoNoCC responds to fired director’s allegations of improprieties

NORWALK, Conn. – When the relationship between former South Norwalk Community Center Executive Director Marina Forero-Ferrandino and center Chairman of the Board Warren Peña began to turn hostile, Forero-Ferrandino and her husband, then-Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino, began to compile a list of problems they said were having a negative impact on SoNoCC’s financial viability and threatening the Center’s status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

warren pena card011
A card handed out in a “Get Out the Vote” drive held at the South Norwalk Community Center before the last election.

On June 9, having been notified she would be replaced as director by her husband, Forero-Ferrandino sent the board a letter detailing her allegations. That letter was included in a packet emailed to NancyOnNorwalk on Monday evening after the board voted to terminate Pat Ferrandino and sever ties between SoNoCC and the couple.

The action came during an executive session of the board that was interrupted by protesters who crashed the meeting when Peña arrived. Peña was the subject of the protest because of his dismissal of Forero-Ferrandino as a volunteer program provider for the Center, a situation that continued even after her dismissal as executive director.

Some of the charges made by the former director have merit, according to Interim Chairman of the Board Ed Camacho, who is also the center’s attorney, but those situations have been addressed, according to a formal response from SoNoCC.

Other charges leveled by the former director, and former board member and current Common Council Minority Leader Travis Simms, have no basis in fact, Camacho said Tuesday.

Camacho responded to a list of 15 specific incidents or situations that were called to NancyOnNorwalk’s attention in the June 9 letter to the SoNoCC Board of Directors, and in a May email from Simms. Simms and fellow Democratic District B Council member Faye Bowman were removed from the board during a reorganization spearheaded by Peña, Forero-Ferrandino and then-Deputy Director Pat Ferrandino. Both Ferrandinos were working on a volunteer basis.

Allegations leveled primarily but not exclusively at Peña included financial improprieties and illegally using SoNoCC for political purposes.

On Monday, Peña announced he would take a leave of absence from his position as chairman of the board until after his campaign for state representative in the 140th district. Peña is challenging four-term incumbent Bruce Morris in a Democratic primary election Aug. 12. There is currently no Republican challenger in the heavily Democratic district.

Camacho acknowledged in a phone call Tuesday night one situation in which Peña “came up to, and maybe crossed, the line” at a “get out the vote” event sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 703 prior to the 2013 election. Peña is the president of the LULAC group. Postcard-sized cards handed out after the event, reminding people to vote, carried Peña’s photo where a postage stamp might be and, on the reverse side, displayed his name in large type centered over the words “POR FAVOR VOTE EL 5 DE NOVIEMBRE” and the translation, “PLEASE VOTE ON NOVEMBER 5th.”

Peña was on the ballot as a candidate for re-election to the Council. Peña was not re-elected.

Camacho said the situation has been addressed, and Peña and the rest of the board recognizes that the handout was improper. Peña will reimburse the Center for the event, he said.

“$1,600 was spent in a voter registration and empowerment drive through a SoNoCC sponsored LULAC chapter,” Camacho wrote in a late-Tuesday email. “Mr. Peña acknowledges that the ‘walk card’ which was handed out following the registration drive (but, as part of it) should not have contained his image. As a result, SoNoCC has implemented protocols for SoNoCC civic engagement activities, and has resolved that Mr. Peña will contribute and sponsor the aforementioned expenditures, to remove any confusion or negative aspersions regarding their propriety in connection with the voter registration and empowerment drive.”

Another major source of contention involves the discovery of $25,000 missing from the SoNoCC bank account. Forero-Ferrandino and her husband have charged that nothing was done about it until she told Peña and the board she would call the police if the money was not returned. The $25,000 was returned shortly by the former executive director, one of Peña’s relatives.

Camacho acknowledged the missing funds, but offered a different explanation.

“Within 30 days of becoming Chair of SoNoCC, Mr. Peña discovered that $25,000 in multipurpose room rental fees had never been deposited in SoNoCC’s accounts,” Camacho wrote. “Mr. Peña insisted that the moneys be deposited into SoNoCC’s accounts. The moneys were ultimately properly deposited into SoNoCC’s accounts, and the ED at the time was asked to, and did, submit her resignation.”

Contacted Monday night, Peña dismissed the charges as an attack by people angry over their dismissal.

“The allegations of impropriety are baseless,” he said in an email. “Pat and Marina are simply upset (because) the board moved in a different direction.”

Pat Ferrandino has indicated he and his wife may take some of there allegations to the state attorney general. Camacho said he has no problem with that, saying it may be a good idea to have the AG’s office decide the merit of the situations so everyone can be satisfied that justice is done.

Other allegations and Camacho’s responses:

From Forero-Ferrndino:

Allegation: Board Vice Chairman Luis Miranda was in charge of multi-purpose room rentals and was paid an hourly security rate in cash by clients in addition to getting cash for extended time rentals.  Funds were not reported or received by the center.

Reponse: It was confirmed that Mr. Miranda was being paid for hourly security services, beyond the standard room rental rate.  That practice was discontinued, and Mr. Miranda was voted off the board in the January 2014.

Allegation: Alcohol was sold without a permit by board members at a Mother’s Day event (2013).

Response: It was determined that prior board members had held a Mother’s Day event to raise money for the Center, at which alcohol was sold.  The practice was questioned, deemed inappropriate (at least without a permit), and was discontinued. The members involved are no longer on the SoNoCC board.

Allegation: The application for a $100,000 PY39 CDBG grant (federal) contained fraudulent misrepresentations.

Response: All of the information provided in the CDBG application was taken from historical data contained in SoNoCC’s files.

Allegation:$1,000 Christmas Dinner for the board – why so much when funds were tight?

Response: A Christmas dinner was held, in part, to recognize the volunteer efforts of SoNoCC’s executive management team, Mr. Ferrandino and Ms. Forero, who attended, along with Board Members Peña and (Oscar) Destruge and their significant others, guest Councilwoman Bowman, and  SoNoCC’s pro bono attorney and spouse, Ed Camacho and Dede Farnsworth.

Allegation: The same question was asked about paying $1,000 for a table at the Mayor’s ball. Some NoN readers asked who was at the table for this event, a charity fundraiser.

Response: Seated at the Mayors Ball table were Mr. Peña and his  significant other, Mr. Ferrandino, Ms. Forero, SoNoCC’s Marketing Director Ms. Plazas, SoNoCC’s Development Director Lauren Rosato, Council members (David) Watts, Bowman and Simms (and his spouse), and SoNoCC’s Treasurer Nathalia Gonzalez.

From Simms:

Allegation: Peña hired Nathalia Gonzalez without board approval.

Response: Nathalia Gonzalez is the Board Treasurer and has never been an employee of SoNoCC.
Allegation: “Warren Peña wrote a check for cash; new one says $15,000 for computers.”

Response: Mr. Peña has never written a check for cash, nor has SoNoCC spent $15,000 (or anywhere near that amount) on computer equipment (or anything else, for that matter), as Mr. Simms suggests.

Allegation: Simms questioned where money went, “Probably $2,500 a week from the community room coming in, renting out to AmeriCares and Salvation Army. Warren Peña brought those people in there. He structured a deal with those people.”

Response: All funds received from community (multipurpose) room rental are properly accounted for. SoNoCC and NEON have an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with AmeriCare, which expires in 2015, pursuant to which AmeriCares pays no rent in exchange for the provision of free community healthcare services. SoNoCC has an 18-month MOU with the Salvation Army, pursuant to which the Salvation Army pays rent in the amount $700 per month, and provides Irene and Sandy reimbursement relief.

Allegation: “We know that he is illegally using the credit card and we’ve got on the ledger it shows where he was going to NY to see his girlfriend, he was filling up for gas on New Canaan Avenue by his house, he was paying for parking in NY with the credit card, he was going out to eat on the credit card.”

Response: Mr. Peña traveled to NYC on two (2) occasions, once to meet with representatives of US Soccer in anticipation of applying for a grant for possible renovations to Ryan Park, and to meet with other NYC based non-profit organizations in an effort to establish partnerships and potential funding sources for SoNoCC.

Allegation: “He spent $485. He took the Redevelopment Agency staff out to dinner, to drinks and dinner, on the South Norwalk Community Center credit card, buying alcohol, which is illegal. Also treating them for food, which is also illegal, because to me that’s a bribe. You are bribing these people and rewarding them for giving you CDBG funding.”

Response: Mr. Peña  took the CDBG coordinator out for dinner as a courtesy, to thank her for her help in assisting SoNoCC in applying for CDBG, inasmuch as SoNoCC had no such prior experience.

Comments

6 responses to “SoNoCC responds to fired director’s allegations of improprieties”

  1. ScopeonNorwalk

    Camacho better check his records.
    -Nathalia prepared Financial Reports for SONO CC as the Accountant
    -He obviously didn’t even do due diligence in looking over Bank Statements when covering for his friend Pena.

    On CDBG funding: 2 years of fraudulent apps, dinner for staff. No one from Redevelopment would admit the apps were false. That is suspicious and Redevelopment should be investigated.

    Camacho should know better. Between the Board and past Directors, all of the Bank Statements will be available for the Attorney General.

    Quite frankly Bank Statements from SONO CC can be FOIed.

  2. Faye Bowman

    Camacho claims that myself and others were removed from the Board due to “reorganization”. However for two months after that meeting, all former Board members received notice of meeting cancellations being acnkowledged as the board. Then shortly before the Christmas Party several Board Members were removed from communication.

    I was in attendance at the Christmas Party because Pat Ferrandino wanted to discuss SONO CC future with me (during all of this no one informed me that I was no longer on the board). I gave Pat my opinions of what I heard.

    In January it was discovered that myself and several others were no longer on the Board according to Pena due to the “reorganizational” meeting. The majority of the board present that night dispute this fact and i also want to point out that Camacho was not present and cannot say what did or did not happen in this meeting. Luis Miranda was voted in as Vice Chair. No one knows why he was removed and more importantly why he was not notified as being removed until April 2014. In January Pena began soliciting others to fill the Vice Chairman position. There was no meeting held between the “reorganizational” meeting and January. Which is when the CDBG app was submitted that did not list Miranda as the Vice Chair and also when Pena began to solicit a new Vice Chair. Which means no vote was taken by the Board. So Miranda is still the Vice Chair.

    Something like this should have been caught by the Board Members. However, the Board has been strategically kept at four, and these particular four, because they have not questioned any of these action. But the job of the Board is to ask the difficult questions and the Board Chair cannot legally remove you for asking the difficult questions.

  3. TLaw

    One can’t help but think that where’s there’s this much smoke, there’s certainly fire. It seems like it’s amateur hour at the SoNoCC and an acknowledgement by Mr. Camacho on many of the allegations further weakens the position that Mr. Pena would find himself in. Bringing in the AG is probably the most logical thing to do at this point.

  4. Tim D

    Admitting you have a problem is the first step and anyone associated with the whole of SoNoCC & NEON should be purged. It’s the same cycle over and over and over.

  5. Bill

    No response to the allegation that he used SoNoCC money for his own campaign work? Where is that response Mr. Pena? You have a lot of explaining to do. How can anyone trust this guy with his money, much less their vote.

  6. Jeremy

    Does anyone care about the people who had being help with the programs offered?
    Oops I forgot, they are minories.
    Is that the way Pena wants to represent the Latino Comunity?
    Way to go!

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