Demands for an audit of one of the state’s most influential Hispanic organizations have led to a clash between its state director and members of the prior administration who have yet to relinquish financial control, the Tribune has learned.
Sam Esquivel, who was elected state director of the Arizona League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, in May, said he has tried unsuccessfully for months to obtain financial records and gain control of the organization’s bank account.
LULAC’s bylaws require an audit be conducted when a new state director takes over. Local council presidents also demanded an audit during a state meeting in August. Yet Esquivel said he has been unable to force the audit because the bank account remains under the control of former state director Mary Fimbres.
"I am totally in the dark as far as state finances are concerned," Esquivel said. "The only ones that truly know are the ones whose names are on that account."
Fimbres said she does not know if her name remains on the account, along with LULAC state treasurer Alma Yubeta, a holdover from the prior administration. Bank statements have been given to Esquivel, and those are the only financial records related to the account, Fimbres said.
"All of the papers were given to him for the audit," Fimbres said.
Fimbres’ husband, Richard, who until recently was LULAC national vice president for the far West, said it is his understanding that the account has been transferred to Esquivel’s control and that plans for an audit are proceeding.
Richard Fimbres, currently the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said the flap is being fueled by a certain faction within LULAC that is dividing the organization.
The situation has grown so volatile that LULAC’s national organization has become involved. In late October, the current national vice president for the far western region held a mediation session in an attempt to settle any rift within the organization. Esquivel also has created a finance committee responsible for getting the audit moving.
Financial records of the state account were brought to the October mediation meeting, Richard Fimbres said. Esquivel confirmed that bank statements have been turned over to the finance committee chairman, but added that does not fulfill the requirements of an audit.
Richard and Mary Fimbres have long been the top players in Arizona LULAC and headed the group’s powerful Tucson faction. LULAC is among the state’s largest and most politically influential Latino organizations, with chapters throughout Arizona. When Esquivel was elected state chairman in May, he was supposed to gain control of the state organization’s bank account, he said.
Esquivel added he has tried repeatedly to have his name put on the account so he can write checks and access the records. He was to be told that someone whose name was already on the account could have him added orauthorize release of financial records.
Esquivel said he has repeatedly raised the issue with Richard and Mary Fimbres and Yubeta. He has been told for months he would be given control of the state account.
The only way to force the issue at this point is to take legal action, he said, adding that is something he has not done out of fear a court battle would harm the organization.
Yubeta could not be reached for comment.
Concerns about the organization’s finances festered among the rank and file until Aug. 23, when delegates at a state convention voted to require an audit, said Billy Soza, president of a Phoenixbased veterans council of LULAC, who attended that meeting.
Yubeta reported there was about $13,000 in the account, but that about half of that money had already been allocated, Soza said.
The demand for an audit was made because of "concern over what could be impropriety, but (also) to maintain the integrity of the organization and the confidence in its bookkeeping," said Soza, adding the motion passed unanimously.
Veronica De La O, a local council president who seconded the motion for the audit, agreed that uncertainty about what had happened to money in the state account is what prompted the call for an audit by the state committee.
"We were told that a certain amount was left and then afterwards we were informed that there were deductions to be made," De La O said. "We were concerned and we wanted to make sure all the deductions totaled the amount they should be."
Since August, the call for an audit has languished, Esquivel said. He has attempted to make arrangements to have an accountant who specializes in nonprofit organizations audit the account, he said. He added that since he is not listed as a signatory on the account, he cannot access all of the records or force an audit.
In September, the LULAC executive board agreed to proceed with a cursory audit, which is less detailed and less expensive than a full audit. That was supposed to be finished by Oct. 31. However, that deadline was pushed back 30 days at the Oct. 25 meeting.
Esquivel also has discussed the issue with representatives of the national LULAC organization, who thus far have been unwilling to force action, he said.
Brent Wilkes, national executive director of LULAC, said Esquivel should have access to the state account and its records, and that he thought the issue had been resolved.
"We are trying to resolve it," Wilkes said. "This is new information to us about him still having trouble with this issue."
Esquivel said he is not making any allegations of impropriety, but rather is frustrated that he is unable to fulfill the demands of the organization’s charter and the vote from the state meeting in August.
But the issue has gotten so heated that people who have complained have been threatened with lawsuits, and national officials loyal to the Fimbreses have raised the prospect that Esquivel might be impeached, he said.
"Impeachment on what grounds?" Esquivel said. "On doing my job?
"It’s not a matter of satisfying me. All I’m asking for is what’s in the constitution and what has been requested by the state body."