Ex-San Jose gay center treasurer faces sentencing for embezzlement
San Jose’s Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, which has seen financial and leadership troubles in recent years, is set to mark another unpleasant milestone Tuesday, August 16.
Former volunteer secretary/treasurer Nicholas Rice-Sanchez, 26, is expected to be sentenced in Santa Clara County Superior Court for embezzling almost $40,000 from the nonprofit. Rice-Sanchez, who had been a board member in 2010, pleaded no contest to a single felony charge in May. Such a plea is legally equivalent to a guilty plea.
Meanwhile, the center, just west of the South Bay city’s downtown area, is down to three board members. However, board President Chris Flood said the nonprofit’s not in any danger of closing.
The center can have up to 15 board members. Asked about whether having only three people on the panel presents problems, Flood said he and the two others are basically "taking the job of an executive director and dividing it among the three of us, and it seems to be working."
Flood has been president since February 2010 and has served on the board for a total of almost seven years. Other board members are Vice President Greg Belaus and Treasurer Patrick McAtee.
According to a complaint filed October 1, 2010 in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose, between the period February 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010, Rice-Sanchez (whose last name appears in court documents as Ricesanchez) was charged with one count of felony embezzlement.
Flood said someone came to the June board meeting last year and told members that they thought Rice-Sanchez, who ran for San Jose City Council in 2008, was stealing from the center. Minutes from that meeting say that Rice-Sanchez was absent from the session. They don’t explicitly refer to the conversation with Rice-Sanchez’s friend.
Flood said he checked bank records, and they reflected charges generated in Puerto Rico on a center ATM card. Rice-Sanchez also paid for other personal expenses using the center’s money, Flood said. Rice-Sanchez never responded to center officials when they tried to find out what was going on, he said.
However, he said, as soon they became aware of the problem, "We put an end to it." He added that safeguards are now in place to prevent a similar situation occurring in the future.
Michael Fletcher, who’s been prosecuting the case for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, said, "What’s really sad about this and particularly troublesome is this is a nonprofit organization that serves a very important community" that’s supported by "the good will of contributors."
Fletcher said Rice-Sanchez has been out of custody since October 30, 2010, the same day he was arrested. The Bay Area Reporter wasn’t able to confirm whether Rice-Sanchez turned himself in voluntarily.
Asked whether Rice-Sanchez would pay the money back, Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Kipp Davis said, "The court’s going to order it." But Davis said he didn’t know where Rice-Sanchez would be able to get the money.
He said as part of his plea deal, if Rice-Sanchez pays back the full amount by the day of sentencing, he’ll receive a three-month county jail commitment. Otherwise, he’ll get eight months.
Either way, his sentence is expected to also include a minimum of three years probation. That term could be extended to five years, Davis said.
Rice-Sanchez might be able to take part in an electronic monitoring program, where he would wear an ankle bracelet and be "completely restricted" to his home, Davis said. In that case, he’d only be allowed to go to things like doctor’s appointments, for which he’d have to receive prior approval.
Davis said through his plea, Rice-Sanchez is "acknowledging he made a mistake," and he said he "firmly believes" his client "wants to move forward with his life."
Rice-Sanchez could not be reached for comment.
Recent years have seen other trouble for the DeFrank center, starting with the 2009 ouster of former Executive Director Aejaie Sellers.
Earlier this year, the center canceled its 30th anniversary party, which had been planned for March 26. Only about 40 tickets had been sold.
The budget is currently about $250,000. Flood said the center gets most of its funding through individual donations. He estimated they currently have more than $80,000 in the bank. He said there are no changes to services planned.
Current programs include support groups and HIV testing. The only paid staffer is the HIV program coordinator.
The center pays $1 a year for rent for its building on The Alameda. Flood said they’re planning to fix the roof this summer - "It’s been leaking since we moved in" - and that’s expected to cost about $40,000.
As far as the board, Flood said, "There’s always been a lot of turnover" there.
"A lot of people get on thinking it’s going to be one thing, and it turns out to be something else," he said. He added "it’s a lot of work," and it’s "hard for people to make that kind of commitment when they have a full-time job."
Asked whether the board’s actively recruiting new members, Flood said, "I wouldn’t say we aren’t, but I wouldn’t say we are, either. ... It’s not like we’re putting ads out." However, "If we find people who are interested, we would be more than happy to give them a shot at it," he said.
Most current and former board members contacted for this story didn’t respond to interview requests. However, Michael Schlemmer, who left the board in 2010 when elections came up, after about two years on the board, said, "It was a positive experience."
He said while he was there, "the center was facing some rather extreme challenges," including having to face the possibility of closing. He said there had been no problems he "could speak to" working with other board members. Asked what working with Flood had been like, he said, "I’d really rather not get into any commentary about particular board members. ... I think it’s a breach of fiduciary duties of a board member to reveal what happened between board members."
For more information, visit http://www.defrankcenter.org.