This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
. NATION, 6A
Exclusive coverage of Corpus Christi’s Universal Little League team that will represent the city at the Little League World Series. SPORTS
GRAD PAYS IT FORWARD
BLUFF STAR ON THE MEND
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11, 2013 ■ CITY EDITION
CEO HAS EYE ON COMMUNITY
■ Tough water
City to turn tap on past due tabs
enforcement to start Sept. 1
By Jessica Savage
What do some Corpus Christi residents in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods have in common with some who live in the poorest areas?
They can’t pay their utility bills on time. Nearly 1 in every 4 city utility customers is late paying the monthly water sewer and trash bill. They represent a cross-section of the community, including a downtown restaurant, a 200-room bayfront hotel, residents on Ocean Drive and renters in low-income apartments. More than 1,400 customers of the 95,000 are on a payment plan to catch up on
past-due bills. Collectively they owe about $611,000 with the average bill about $538. The largest bill is more than $18,000, according to a Caller-Times analysis of city utility records for past-due accounts as of July 8. To lower the number of late payers, the city will roll out a more aggressive collection plan, beginning Sept. 1. It will reduce the amount of time someone has to pay
See DELINQUENT, 11A
Brian Hitchcock with the city of Corpus Christi’s water department shuts the water off at a home on Light Wind Drive on Thursday for failure to pay a utility bill.
■ LULAC apartments
face fraud allegations, netting investigations
By Rhiannon Meyers
and Michelle Villarreal
Fifty years ago, the League of United Latin American Citizens started building affordable apartments for low-income residents in the Coastal Bend. That charitable venture has turned into an enterprise plagued by inﬁghting and allegations that have led to lawsuits, police reports and a state investigation. The boards governing LULAC apartments in Corpus Christi and Sinton have faced allegations of fraud, theft and mismanagement, often lodged by other LULAC housing board members. One board’s claims of missing money prompted the Texas Attorney General’s Office to launch an investigation. An investigator has interviewed board members and subpoenaed bank records in the past two years, according to interviews and records, but it’s not clear where the investigation stands. Investigator Brian Guenthner did not return the Caller-Times’ calls. The Attorney General’s Office does not conﬁrm or deny investigations, spokesman Tom Kelley said. Rep. Todd Hunter on Thursday requested a status update from the Attorney General’s Office and is awaiting a response. In June, local problems were thrust into the spotlight when one national LULAC board member
Read the lawsuits, police reports and district attorney memos regarding allegations surrounding LULAC housing.
more GALLERY: See photos of local LULAC housing.
sued the organization’s president, claiming she sold a Corpus Christi apartment complex without approval and for less than it was worth. The suit exposed the strife surrounding LULAC housing for years. Retired attorney William Bonilla, a longtime LULAC member who pushed for public housing when he served as national
RACHEL DENNY CLOW/CALLER-TIMES
Tony Jimenez, board president of LULAC Village Park Apartments, checks out a pool built as part of a multimillion -dollar renovation in 2008. Vandals damaged it, and it needs to be resurfaced, said Christina Felan, manager of the apartment complex.
president in the mid-1960s, said he does not believe that the allegations and investigations will stop LULAC from offering lowincome housing.
“We will have to explain the tainted image that some unscrupulous people may have placed on the
See LULAC, 10A
Some T-storms. 21A
Get the latest radar, weather advisories and more at Caller.com/ weather
Get local news now.
BUSINESS 18A COMICS 1D CROSSWORD 5G OBITUARIES 10B LOTTERY 2C OPINION 20A
Eva Ford, manager of the LULAC West Park Apartments, gives a tour of a typical apartment at the complex, which was renovated in 2008. While residents have given good reviews of the renovation, apartment complex board members have ﬁled complaints with the police and the district attorney claiming misappropriation of funds during the remodeling.
10A » Sunday, August 11, 2013 »
C A L L E R -T I M E S
FROM THE COVER
Developments in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and Sinton.
Corpus Christi Bay
RACHEL DENNY CLOW/CALLER-TIMES
1 LULAC Village Park Apartments 1417 Horne Road, Corpus Christi 2 LULAC West Park Apartments 10702 I-37 Access Road, Corpus Christi 3 LULAC Hacienda Apartments 2625 Greenwood Drive, Corpus Christi 4 Kingsville LULAC Manor Apartments 1220 N. 17th St., Kingsville 5 LULAC Amistad Apartments 920 Flores St., Sinton
The LULAC Village Park Apartments are located on Horne Road. In recent years, questions have been raised about the oversight and management of some of those complexes.
LULAC West Park Apartments on Interstate 37 Access Road just past McKinzie Road serves low-income residents.
honor of (LULAC),” said Bonilla, who got funding to build the organization’s ﬁrst housing development in Corpus Christi. “Some people have deviated from the purpose LULAC was founded. To those people, I say shame. To those people, I say get out of LULAC.” The future of LULAC apartments is signiﬁcant in a town desperate for affordable housing. Demand here dwarfs supply and Corpus Christi renters seeking low-income housing often wait for years for a unit to become available. In June, 799 families remained on a waiting list for a type of federally subsidized housing called Section 8. That waiting list last opened for applicants in November 2010. Before that, it was closed for ﬁve years.
I’m upset because none of this was brought to the board with enough time to review it. We wanted a little more disclosure to the board. I want to see what the deal was and if it was a legit deal.”
Rick Dovalina, Hacienda board member
RACHEL DENNY CLOW/CALLER-TIMES
Tony Jimenez, board president of LULAC Village Park Apartments, shows off a meeting room in the welcome center, which was part of a large-scale renovation project in 2008. Board members ﬁled a police report two years ago claiming the developer got paid for work he didn’t do.
CLAIMS OF MISMANAGEMENT The civil rights organization founded in Corpus Christi in 1929 ﬁrst started building apartments in the 1960s because of a dire housing shortage for the elderly and poor. Some members called it a national crisis, saying poor people were being forced to live without running water or indoor plumbing. “I knew we needed housing,” Bonilla said. “Too many poor people were paying money to live in houses without plumbing. The landlord could throw you out just like that. You were insecure. That was the case for a lot of parts of South Texas.” The civil rights organization borrowed federal money to build apartment complexes and set up nonproﬁt boards to oversee the developments once the federal loans were repaid. The organization opened its first Corpus Christi complex, LULAC Village Park Apartments on Horne Road, in 1969, one of the nation’s ﬁrst LULAC housing developments. The governing boards, comprised of members appointed by LULAC, were charged with managing, operating and controlling the property, including maintenance and upkeep of the units. The boards since have hired management companies to oversee day-to-day operations at the apartments, standard practice for such properties. Over time, ﬁve developments were built in Corpus Christi, Kingsville and Sinton, housing a total of 472 families. In recent years, questions have been raised about the oversight and management of some of those complexes. The most recent lawsuit, ﬁled June 13, claims LULAC’s national President Margaret Moran last year sold LULAC Hacienda, an apartment complex for seniors, for $1.7 million. That’s less than what the property was worth, according to the lawsuit. “I’m upset because none of this was brought to the board with enough time to review it,” Hacienda board member Rick Dovalina said. “We wanted a little more disclosure to the board. I want to see what the deal was and if it was a legit deal.” A response to the lawsuit hadn’t been ﬁled as of
Residents at LULAC West Park Apartments on Interstate 37 Access Road just past McKinzie Road take advantage of the pool. The large-scale renovation work done at West Park was modeled after a similar project completed at Village Park Apartments in 2008. Landscaping around the LULAC West Park Apartment’s community center and ofﬁce are maintained by a maintenance man, and manager Eva Ford said residents keep an eye out on the property to help keep the complex looking nice.
Friday. That suit follows years of complaints filed by board members of other local LULAC apartments about millions of dollars in missing money and misappropriated funds during multimillion dollar renovation projects. Within the past two years, board members governing LULAC West Park on Interstate 37 have ﬁled complaints with the police and with District Attorney Mark Skurka claiming misappropriation of funds during 2008 remodeling. That project was overseen by board members from another low-income complex, LULAC Village, who they say took over their board and mishandled their money. They speciﬁcally blame former board member Henry Gorham and developer David Marquez and his wife and business partner, Cindy, of San Antonio. West Park board members say they do not know the exact amount of money missing. They told police they
were missing up to $1.4 million and told Skurka up to $2.5 million was misappropriated, according to records. And although the project was ﬁnished in November 2009, board members still don’t know the ﬁnal price tag. Estimated initially to cost $10 million to $12 million, they believe the renovation has cost them more than $20 million because of cost overruns, mismanagement and attorneys fees when they were forced to defend themselves against lawsuits ﬁled by contractors for nonpayment. The attorney general became involved after Skurka, citing limited resources to investigate the allegations, asked the attorney general in February 2011 to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing. Attorney general investigator Guenthner began looking into the matter, including subpoenaing bank records and combing through boxes of records. But he has not provided an update on the investigation in at
least two years, according to Skurka, police reports and board members. Despite the investigation and lawsuits, residents at those apartment complexes have not noticed any changes. Meagan Adame, who has lived at West Park with her 3-year-old son for nearly a year, said the staff, strict rules and amenities such as a pool and basketball court make the newly renovated complex nicer than other low-income apartments in Corpus Christi. “It’s a good place to live for my son,” she said.
VILLAGE QUESTIONS The large-scale renovation work done at West Park was modeled after a similar project completed at Village in 2008. The ﬁrst LULAC development in Corpus Christi to undergo renovation in recent years, Village served as an example for subsequent multimillion renovation projects at West Park and LULAC Amistad in Sinton. Village resident Jeremi-
ah Flores, 19, said he appreciates the living conditions. His working air-conditioner and the ability to open and close windows make the place better than other low-income developments in Corpus Christi, he said. Flores, who moved into the apartment with his girlfriend and two children, said maintenance issues usually take about two weeks, but it is something they can live with. “It’s Section 8, but there’s worse,” he said. The Village renovation project cost about $14 million, but like West Park, board members could not say precisely how much. All 152 units at Village were gutted to the studs and renovated, including new ﬂooring, countertops and appliances, Village board members said. The renovation also included the construction of a large new office with meeting space where LULAC sometimes hosts events. Similar to West Park, Village board members also noticed missing funds. They claim Marquez was paid $112,000 for work that was never completed and that former board member Gorham approved the payment, according to a June 2011 police report. The Caller-Times requested documents to support their claims, but Village board members would not provide them. Gorham, who was removed from the Village board, said he has never done anything wrong at West Park or Village, nor has he been interviewed by investigators. “There was no wrongdoing done by me or by anyone,” he said. “Most of
these allegations are envy and egos.” Marquez has since repaid about half of the amount, Village board member Raul Vasquez said. Marquez, contacted twice by phone, did not return calls seeking for comment. Vasquez also met with Guenthner about a year and a half ago to discuss the disputed funds and has not heard from him since, he said. Some have expressed frustration with the lack of investigation into their claims. “Nobody took any action. None,” West Park board member Butch Escobedo said. LULAC Council No. 1 President Nick Adame said this was the ﬁrst time he was hearing about the allegations of missing money. He said he had heard of an investigation but didn’t know what it was for. He said the council separates itself from the housing board so it can focus on the community’s civil rights issues. Even though he didn’t know the details of the missing money claims, Adame said he doesn’t think the issues will affect LULAC’s ability to provide housing in the future. “These issues I’m sure will work themselves out, but I’m sure (LULAC) will always have the ability to provide housing,” Adame said. “I just know that LULAC, being a strong organization, will still maintain its integrity after a lot of these issues have been addressed. I think it will affect it but not enough that it will damage our mission.”
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.