‘Casa del Mexicano’ Could Wind Up in the Hands of MAOF
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
The California Attorney General’s could intervene in the sale of “La Casa del Mexicano”— a nonprofit cultural institution in Boyle Heights whose controversial operators filed bankruptcy earlier this year to avoid foreclosure.
The State Attorney General’s office cannot comment on the details, but there might be a proposal for another nonprofit to take over the building, spokesperson Lynda Gledhill told EGP.
Since February, community activists have kept a wary eye on Casa del Mexicano and have even organized efforts to buy the property after the so-called directors of the nonprofit Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana, Inc., husband and wife Martha and Ruben Soriano, filed for bankruptcy.
Members of the community have accused the Sorianos of fraud, and using the nonprofit for personal financial gain.
Read this story IN SPANISH: ‘La Casa del Mexicano’ Podría Terminar en Manos de MAOF
According to Javier Rodriguez, director of the March 25th Coalition and the Committee to Rescue la Casa del Mexicano, a deputy attorney of the California Department of Justice has been investigating the situation and would prefer that the property be turned over to another nonprofit group.
The attorney general’s office and the lender, Brownstone Mortgage Capital Corporation, have agreed that the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF) would qualify, according to Rodriguez.
However, the loan was taken out under the nonprofit’s name, which was translated to English, and it is still in bankruptcy proceedings. The last scheduled auction for the property was postponed until Oct. 24, Brownstone Senior Vice President Henry Villaseñor told EGP.
“It’s hard for me to say what’s really going on,” Villaseñor said, declining to answer some of EGP’s questions. “All that we do know is that it is still in bankruptcy and its auction has been delayed again, we are waiting for that date … it’s been in default for at least a year.”
Rodriguez and others have accused the Soriano’s of mismanaging the former mosque built in 1904 and established in 1931 as a nonprofit center to promote Mexican culture.
Rodriguez said, according to the nonprofit group’s bylaws, and the state’s requirements for nonprofits, a board of directors is supposed to be making policy decisions for the center, including all finances associated with running the property and organization.
However, there is no board in place, and the Sorianos have been running the facility as their own private venture, going so far as taking out a loan in a similar name against the property, despite not having authority to do so, according to Rodriguez. They have now defaulted on that loan, leaving the center in a precarious situation.
The 70-year-old institution was founded with the help of the Mexican Consul General of Los Angeles and once offered English classes as well and other civic, social and Mexican cultural activities in Boyle Heights.
The attorney general’s office did contact MAOF and asked whether we would be interested in taking possession of the building, confirmed Executive Director Martin Castro. “[They] wanted to ensure the land and building went to a charitable organization,” Castro told EGP.
MAOF is interested in acquiring the property, it is one of three nonprofits being considered, Castro said.
“I’ve given you as much as we know. Until bankruptcy is absolved by the judge, we won’t be granted the title,” he said.
Castro said his organization toured the facility located at 2900 Pedro Infante St. with a representative of the attorney generals’ office. The building, it seems, is still being leased for private events and the parking lot may be used for periodic flee markets, he said.
Signs promoting Lucha Libre! (Mexican-style wrestling) events at the venue are still popping up around town.
Marta Samano of Academy of Latinos Leaders in Action, a decade old nonprofit, says “the community” has asked the attorney general to allow the property and facility to remain in the hands of a viable nonprofit, and recommended three such local groups.
“We had decided that MAOF could continue to provide oversight to the Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana,” said Samano, who identified herself as a key negotiator.
MAOF was suggested because it is a well-established organization that could continue the mission of the organization itself, she said.
The stakeholders are now waiting to see what the Sorianos will do. They could continue to file for bankruptcy. Samano says they appear reluctant to let the building go.
The building is still being rented out for boxing and wrestling events, dances and flea markets on the weekend, said Samano, who is frustrated that the attorney general is not using its power to pressure the Sorianos to transfer it to another nonprofit.
“The attorney general has allowed them to continue to do business like nothing [is going on],” she said.
Martha and Ruben Soriano could not be reached for comment.
October 6, 2011 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.