Dallas judge halts LULAC elections, CEO suspended with the organization’s leadership up in the air
A judge found evidence that holding the National Convention in Puerto Rico was a plan to give control to PR’s biggest political parties.
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On July 29, Dallas Associate Judge Tahira Khan Merritt of the 162nd District Court suspended the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) from holding its board and presidential elections that were set to take place in Puerto Rico. On Aug. 9, LULAC’s CEO Sindy Benavides was temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
This follows allegations and claims from LULAC council members that there was a plan in place to hand control over to one of Puerto Rico’s biggest political parties, The New Progressive Party (PNP), during the election that was going to take place on the island for the first time, as LULAC faced Puerto Ricans taking charge of the oldest Latino civil rights organization.
Associate Judge Merritt said in the order issued late July that there was an abundance of evidence to suggest that the claims are true. She claimed that the effort "to engage in a fraudulent and illicit scheme to place LULAC under the irreversible control of a foreign political party” was in direct violation of the existing by-laws of LULAC.
PNP is in the line of fire in the order, as the suit claims the party had in multiple efforts, provided funding to create a number of “illegitimate” councils (‘chapters’) as LULAC calls them, up to 300 with over $700,000. By doing so, the voting that is required to be done on site, would have been dominated by Puerto Ricans with the convention taking place in San Juan. Many delegates in the states had announced that they would not go over COVID fears as well as the expense for travel during a tough economic time.
In a recent statement about the funds to Latino Rebels, LULAC President Domingo Garcia said an investigation is under way.
“We are investigating the source of the funds. We’re talking about close to a million dollars that was spent to try to buy an election through outside money, and we’re trying to determine the source and follow the money trail. If it turns out to be illegal or tainted funds, then we need to return them. We don’t want to have anything to do with any campaign that used those funds,” Garcia said.
Jeffrey Tillotson, a Dallas lawyer who represents four members of LULAC who introduced the lawsuit, said the funds potentially would have made the election in San Juan no more than a formality.
"No one wants to have an election where you think someone else has unfairly stacked the deck,” he said.
The election would have put current President Domingo Garcia, aMexican-American from Dallas who has been in charge since 2018, against Juan Carlos Lizardi of New York whose mother, Elsie, is an activist for Puerto Rican statehood and a LULAC board member.
"As president, I must protect and defend LULAC from external or internal corrupt threats,” he said. “PNP staunchly advocates statehood for Puerto Rico. That is their right, and we have no issue with any position the people of Puerto Rico take through a fair and open election. However, LULAC has always been non-partisan."
Lizardi also commented that the lawsuit was merely an act of voter suppression.
"A strategy was used to influence not having an election by discouraging or preventing members from voting — The work continues. One does not need a little title to serve the community. One just needs to serve. I look forward to working with all of you on the issues we need to fight, especially to guarantee that voter suppression does not continue. Inside or outside of our beloved organization,” he said.
Garcia said in a statement on the LULAC website recently that: “We will not let the corruption of the Partido Nuevo Progresista, or New Progressive Party, or any partisan political party stain the good name of our organization.”
Following this, CEO Sindy Benavides was suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation, as the judge ordered that all activities halt until at least Aug. 12, when the judge would order a meeting. Garcia first broke the news to Latino Rebels.