Members allege the American GI Forum has been shilling for Boeing, Big Oil, and AT&T
Published: September 14, 2011
“I think that’s just the way we’re going to have to go,” she said. “It bothers me, because it looks like they’re lobbying for things that have nothing to do with what the American GI Forum and what it was founded for.”
Next month’s court hearing should determine whether the national board can reinstate Morales and two other members who were booted from the national organization in 2009 over various alleged improprieties. That lawsuit charges Morales with failing to hand over documents “to substantiate the accounting of financial records related to over $10,000 of AGIF funds and for engaging in unauthorized contracts with corporate entities while using his position as National Commander and the AGIF name.”
Vallecillo says that has largely to do with the AT&T grant money — the issue that sparked his inquiry in the first place. After AT&T wrote the check to the GI Forum, Morales signed over all the cash to Mirabal, the lobbyist and founder of Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, to control. It was originally intended to total $200,000 — $100,000 each year — but allegations from Vallecillo and others spooked the telecom giant, causing the company to drop the second year of the grant, Gonzales said.
“I want to be very careful here — some folks have contacted HTTP. They have used the words ‘potential lawsuit’ in some of their communication and what not,” Gonzales said. “The grant proposal was written by HTTP to AT&T, and it had nothing to do at all with the American GI Forum and veterans,” he said. The Forum, he said, was “desperate” at the time, looking for funds to help start a new D.C. office.
The group’s Vet-Hire program, he says, only received the cash as part of a “fiscal agent” agreement, meaning AT&T wanted the money donated to a 501c(3) charity so the company could get a tax write-off – “It wasn’t mismanagement, it was poor management,” Gonzales said. The Vet-Hire didn’t deposit the check into its own account, but rather handed it over to the HTTP in Washington, D.C., with the organization taking a 10 percent kickback, Gonzales said, “Which is pretty standard when you’re working with one nonprofit to another nonprofit and you sign a fiscal agent agreement.” Much of the rest of the money went to a handful of other Hispanic organizations that, like the AGIF, make up the HTTP coalition — groups like LULAC and the National Puerto Rican Coalition.
Apart from the fact that the Vet-Hire name was used and only a tiny slice went to veterans programming (nearly $12,000 went to self-endorsed checks to Mirabal for “expenses” while another nearly $20,000 went to travel, hotel, and meals and entertainment costs), what angers Vallecillo and others is what happened after the money was received.
> Email Michael Barajas