July 25, 2008
I have kept quiet for so long because I believe that the “sacred scales of justice” will allow truth to prevail in the cases against Ben Menor and the Filipino American Senior Opportunities Development Council Inc.’s Board of Directors (a.k.a. FilAmSODC).
As a former staff member and consultant of FilAmSODC, Inc./JTS Northside Community Center, I was there when the storm (that eventually resulted in the Ben Menor and FilAmSODC legal cases) started actively brewing and I was there when the Friends of JTS Northside Community Center, led by Mohinder Mann and Annie Dandavati, supported the fight to retain its deserving Filipino management in 2005-2006. Since FilAmSODC had been serving Filipino and Indo-American communities — with plans to serve other ethnic groups in San Jose — the multi-ethnic coalition (that I love and support) headed by these Friends was a constant inspiration to the senior citizens, the youth, and other stakeholders served by the center. Recently, I came across the myspace.com website of the Mabuhay Cultural Club of Independence High School, wherein the young members honor Ben Menor as one of their heroes. Rodel Rodis wrote about these Filipino CRABS in 2004 (who started it all!) — which, of course, the latter used to spin and brand themselves “The Silicon Valley CRABS.”
What I am writing here today is a continuation of my PERSONAL INSIGHTS AND THOUGHTS which started with the Flames of Consciousness and A Perspective on Filipino Consciousness at the NaFFAA Y2K2 Empowerment Conference in 2002. I had also celebrated my employment with a story in my column at Manila Bulletin USA in August of 2003, “Filipino Consciousness at Work.”
Yesterday, I checked in by phone with Ben Menor since I wanted to know what happened to his “sentencing” date in court on July 24, 2008. The judge gave him an extension of 30 days to come up with the balance of the required restitution. Ben told me that he had raised over 50% of the required restitution. That was good news.
Later on last night, I found out that Joseph Lariosa, a supposedly credible Filipino American journalist based in Chicago, had written an article about Ben Menor’s day in court. Ben shared with me that Joseph had indeed asked him for his comments or Ben’s lawyers’ comments BUT before the lawyers could respond, Joseph e-mailed him with his published news story and wrote Ben, “Please let me know if you have problem accessing it. Please let me know also if there is any correction to be made.”
Duh, what would my fellow media practitioners say about this?
Here’s what I’m thinking. “Really, Mr. Lariosa! How interesting it is that you couldn’t wait for any corrections (or fact checking) BEFORE sending your supposed credible article for publication. You are just as bad as Bobby Reyes of MabuhayRadio.com, who I do not support and who I have publicly denounced as a NON-journalist.”
Joseph Lariosa’s article about Ben Menor’s case today is INCORRECT, MISLEADING, AND DECEIVING.
Have you ever heard about a complete sentence being chopped up so that only 1/2 of the truth is being written? This is what I believe happened.
Since I’m not a lawyer, I can only write what I feel is MY truth about this case — which I have truly devoted a lot of due diligence and homework to.
Let’s deal with some facts first (and my analysis, of course).
1. This beautiful community center that was built by Filipino leadership led by FilAmSODC’s board of directors and its President and CEO, Ben Menor, has been given several building design awards.
2. On June 21, 2005, I sent out an e-mail blast to my network, in preparation for the audit hearing that June 23. This will give us some perspective.
Dear friends: Fil-AmSODC, Inc. & its President/CEO Ben Menor have been bombarded by “armchair critics” from the media. There are people like myself who were really there at JTS Northside during those challenging times. I believe that NO ONE ELSE could have achieved what FilAmSODC, Inc. has done in the past 10 years, “making promises and dreams come true” for its constituencies and stakeholders, including:
(a) Ben Menor convincing two mayors of San Jose to shell out (appropriate) the rest of the 60% funding ($8 million) to build JTS Northside Community Center;
(b) managing three centers’ nutrition programs before the move to the new center;
(c) training the staff on capacity-building for the new community center and cost-effectively finding new experts, networks, and resources to help them out (that’s what managing the 2002 NaFFAA conference did);
(d) moving into a new center (that Ben Menor helped supervise);
(e) continuing and refining its programs according to its new scope of services (which included the intergeneration/intercultural- focused Neighborhood Facility Management and its event management & catering group services);
(f) following the guidance of its monitoring agency, Parks Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) — and doing its reports as directed;
(g) launching fundraising programs to augment the restricted funds FilAmSODC, Inc. was receiving;
(h) looking for short-term sources of funds when reimbursements didn’t arrive on time for FilAmSODC, Inc. to meet its Accounts Payable obligations;
(i) and maintaining its silence during the audit process because they believed that influencing the outcome of the audit is the wrong thing to do (and many of us suspect that the CRABS lobbied hard to influence the auditors, city officials, and others — as seen from the e-mails we’ve received and the phone calls they’ve been making to many people).
In all the years Ben Menor has been a stalwart figure in Santa Clara County’s Filipino American and multi-ethnic/cultural landscape, it is hard to imagine a FUTURE without him right in the scene of growth and change in building a stronger community at JTS Northside. Whoever thinks that Ben would go somewhere else is just another rumormonger who wants to undermine the greatness of the Filipino people.
The CRABS came about because of the rapid evolution that JTS Northside had to go through. The strength and resilience of FilAmSODC, Inc. were tested. Just like any family feud gone wrong, it started out as personal and professional jealousy directed toward the President & CEO (from the ugliest CRAB of them all who was the one in charge of reporting FilAmSODC, Inc.’s achievements to PRNS). One of the other CRABS was not patient enough with the process of instilling operational changes — and decided to join the ugliest CRAB. She told me that she was out to prove that “Ben Menor is a crook.”
People forget that we all make mistakes, just as FilAmSODC, Inc. and Ben Menor did â€“ but their actions weren’t done maliciously. They believed that they were doing their best to steer a ship’s course with one rudder through uncharted waters, benefiting the people they promised to serve.
FilAmSODC, Inc. and its President & CEO, Ben Menor, are not your stereotypical Filipinos. They have earned the right to sit at the table AND learn from this audit experience. For people within the Filipino American community to chime in and ask him to resign is unconscionable.
FilAmSODC, Inc. now needs to get behind all this and with the City of San Jose’s support, start the process of “wielding change and building capacity” so that two years from now, all the improvements that the City of San Jose wants done are manifested.
The future is bright. It will be brighter if we acknowledge that it’s no one’s fault that the community center — that the City of San Jose and FilAmSODC, Inc.’s leaders and supporters built — is going through serious growing pains. And yes, it is also Ben Menor’s leadership that is on the line. He will know who his true friends really are. I hope I’m one of them. I believe I know the truth. Through Ben’s mentorship, my truth propelled me to devote time to publicize and be involved in the Filipino community’s celebrations and challenges, locally and globally.
To the armchair critics who are so determined to tarnish FilAmSODC, Inc.’s board of directors and Ben Menor’s reputation, remember what Winston Churchill once said, “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
3. Here are current facts Ben Menor explained to me.
(a) The criminal case is still pending.
(b) The sentencing will be done on September 18, 2008 (orignally scheduled on July 24).
(c) Ben’s attorneys have asked him not to discuss the underlying facts of the case while it remains pending. Per the plea settlement agreement with the court, the charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor on September 18 if the balance of the “substantial restitution” is paid (which includes the court fees).
(d) When complete restitution is paid, the court will entertain a motion to expunge the charge, which means the court will dismiss the case in its entirety.
4. Let’s analyze some of the “facts” that Joseph Lariosa wrote about Ben Menor. This is where I turned to my gmail archives and did some google searches.
(a) I found an OP-ED Joseph Lariosa wrote in THE FILIPINO EXPRESS ONLINE, May 12-May 18, 2008, as a columnist. (To those uninitiated by media practices, columnists write OPINIONS, and are responsible for the veracity of their facts.)
In “Reinventing Crab Mentality,” Mr. Lariosa wrote:
It all started when Mr. Cortez had a falling out from his brother-in-law, Mr. Ben Menor, who is a Filipino American, after Mr. Cortez’s sister divorced Mr. Menor. Mr. Cortez once told me that the moment his sister divorced Mr. Menor, he also ceased to become an â€œin-lawâ€ of Mr. Menor (Lorna’s note: Ben was divorced in 1990).
Mr. Lariosa, it was AFTER Ben Menor’s divorce that Mr. Cortez became a program consultant and later, the Executive Vice President of FilAmSODC (1997). Technically, he ceased to be an “in-law” which was a good thing because there was no nepotism in the leadership hierarchy. However, Mr. Cortez was in charge of COMPLIANCE reports to PRNS. Did Mr. Cortez set up Ben Menor for failure since the latter has the command responsibility for all the successes and failures of FilAmSODC’s management? I don’t know. Maybe you would like to investigate this.
(b) In an article Asian Journal published on February 5, 2007, Mr. Lariosa wrote:
Mr. Menor, nephew of his namesake, Hawaii State Chief Justice Ben Menor, has been a rising star among the Filipino American community in San Jose until his former brother-in-law, Tito Cortez, formed a pressure group called â€œCRABSâ€ (Citizens Rebelling Against Bogus Spending), and supplied authorities initial evidence that led to the filing of the separate civil and criminal cases against Mr. Menor.
Mr. Lariosa, what is the logic behind connecting the late Hawaii State Chief Justice Ben Menor with Ben Menor? How do you even know that Ben Menor from San Jose is the namesake?
(c) Here we go again! In the May 5-May 11, 2008 edition of Filipino Express Online, Mr. Lariosa wrote:
Menor, said to be a native of Hawaii of Filipino ancestry, was the executive director of the Filipino American Senior Opportunities Development Council (Fil-Am SODC), a nonprofit group that operates a 92- unit senior housing and community center in San Jose. The same center is being used by Filipinos, Sikhs and Indo-Americans and was considered a model of multicultural cooperation and partnership when it was inaugurated in 2003.
When he was arraigned on Nov. 16, 2006, Menor pleaded not guilty on an indictment returned by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury. The indictment charges Ben Menor of 3056 Knights Bridge Rd., San Jose with one felony count of California Corporations Code Section 6812 (False Statement of Operations) and two felony counts of California Penal Code Section 487 (Grand Theft/Embezzlement). Menor self-surrendered on November 15, 2006 and was released on $30,000 bail.
My questions and comments:
- This is not the first time that you mentioned that Ben Menor is “said to be a native of Hawaii of Filipino ancestry.” Where did you get this conclusion? If you did your homework (fact checking again!), you would have found out that Ben Menor was born in the Philippines. In fact, I believe he was the one who created the term “Generation 1-1/2″ to represent the Filipino Americans who were born in the Philippines but who immigrated to the US before the age of 12.
- I don’t know how many journalists practise giving out the full addresses of defendants. Why couldn’t you just have said “Ben Menor of San Jose, California?” OK, if you’re being careful to make sure you are writing about the one and only Ben Menor, you could at least have written your news story under his given name, “Benny Menor.” But then again, since Benny’s nickname is Ben, people wouldn’t recognize Benny, right?
- Let’s look at the THREE charges. Here is what Rodel Rodis wrote some of us to explain what had happened (in his May 8, 2008 email).
It’s important to note that after going through 30,000 pages of documents, the only case the D.A. had which Ben pled to was a violation of California Corporations Code Section 6812(a) which states that “Every director or officer of any corporation is guilty of a crime if such director or officer knowingly concurs in making or publishing, either generally or privately, to members or other persons (1) any materially false report or statement as to the financial condition of the corporation, or (2) any willfully or fraudulently exaggerated report, account or statement of operations or financial condition, intended to induce and having a tendency to induce, contributions or donations to the corporation by members or other persons.”
More than 99% of Wall Street corporation boards would be guilty of this offense if 30,000 pages of their corporation records were examined by law authorities.
- Let’s get some facts straight again!
Ben Menor is NOT on probation. (He is not “buying his way out of jail,” which appears to be the thesis of your latest article.)
I don’t get it. You never mentioned that the settlement was offered by the District Attorney. Or did I miss this statement somewhere in your article? If Ben Menor truly committed these crimes, shouldn’t he be prosecuted? Why did the District Attorney offer a settlement instead? Probably because there was no evidence OR there is insufficient evidence to convict him.
The way I understand this situation is that the “plea bargain” offered by the District Attorney requires RESTITUTION, which also means that the court fees are included here and whatever purposes restitution is for. When Ben Menor pays the required restitution per the terms of the settlement, the charge will be dismissed. Technically, this means that there will be a misdemeanor, after which it will be expunged immediately.
The two other counts (the serious ones regarding grand theft and embezzlement), once the terms of the settlement offer are met, will also be dismissed during the sentencing (according to court documents). Did you not ask the District Attorney the specified requirements from the court records on the District Attorney’s settlement agreement?
The amount that you stated, $48,000, is incorrect. Ben Menor has to raise over $50,000.
In today’s article, Mr. Lariosa, you wrote:
Count two of the indictment alleges that Menor embezzled thousands of dollars from the center between May 16, 2003 and June 25, 2004 when he paid a center employee with center funds to provide full time in-home elder care to his own parents who were living in Menorâ€™s home.
Here’s something that I would like to emphasize and inform whoever reads my opinions.
In January of 2004, just before I resigned from FilAmSODC, I wrote the analysis of the Intergenerational Assisted Living Program case study/pilot program (wherein Ben’s parents were the subjects). Let’s check the facts again.
This pilot program that Ben Menor spearheaded was approved by the FilAmSODC Board of Directors.
When I wrote the report of the pilot program’s results and the initial draft of the proposal to bring this unique intergenerational assisted living paradigm system-wide within the center, the PRNS (from my conversations with Ben Menor, after he finalized my draft) wholeheartedly approved of the proposal and was ready to work on its launching. I was very proud of my contributions to the “white paper” of this proposal because I had devoted a lot of hours studying and analyzing how it could be efficiently and productively implemented. Well, never say never. I’m optimistic. When Ben Menor gets back on track, I’m positive this is one project that he will follow through (not necessarily in the City of San Jose, right?)…
Mr. Lariosa, you also wrote today about:
He pleaded no contest to the charge that he overstated by 24,000 hours the amount of time he and his agency worked under contract with the city to run the Northside Community Center, a senior housing and community center on North Sixth Street in San Jose. A no contest plea has the same legal effect as a guilty plea, Lowney explained.
Mr. Lariosa, I’m sure you were able to read FilAmSODC’s Response to The Audit Report in 2005. Let me jiggle your memory a bit. The contentious 24,000 hours would be something that Ben Menor would have to plead “no contest” to because this was part of the settlement offer and this was a question regarding the process of reporting the hours to the City of San Jose which the PRNS had a handle on, meaning, they directly supervised the reporting of the hours (the City Auditors found the PRNS to be 60% of the problem with the JTS Northside Community Center). It’s a very long story. As an employee, I remember how I had to write my reports according to the services rendered, the number of people we served, and the hours served. The 24,000 hours may not be the correct overstated amount since it was never verified or confirmed by the District Attorney. One thing is very clear: When restitution is paid, this charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor and the settlement allows the misdemeanor to be expunged.
You gave me a gift, Mr. Lariosa. The gift of “standing up for MY truth.” The next time you write an article that can have truly damaging implications for our strong Filipino American community, check your facts first, then write your article.
To the CRABS who started this all: Remember that we used to be ONE happy family at Northside. Everything that we had talked about (before there were CRABS) was taken up with Ben — yes, all those complaints you had about him and the Board of Directors. We all grew up these past five years. I hope that you will move forward and use your energies wisely and fruitfully to enrich the lives of people who could benefit from your talents and skills. YOU have the capacity to heal. Let it be so.
To Ben Menor’s friends and supporters: This is IT! Just one more hurdle this September!
I believe that we will truly gain from Ben Menor being back in the forefront, training our future leaders and providing community development leadership. Whatever you can do to help will be appreciated!
Here is a poem that I sent out to my internet universe on June 21, 2005 that I believe helped shift the energy that some media practitioners created — the mob mentality of “He’s guilty!” — to a more balanced perspective of “A person is innocent until proven guilty.”
“Turn to the Courage Within You”
by Douglas Pagels
“It takes a strong person to deal with tough times and difficult choices. But you are a strong person. It takes courage. But you possess the inner courage to see you through. It takes being an active participant in your life. But you are in the driver’s seat, and you can determine the direction you want tomorrow to go in.
Hang in thereâ€¦ and take care to see that you don’t lose sight of the one thing that is constant, beautiful, and true: Everything will be fine — and it will turn out that way because of the special kind of person you are.
Soâ€¦ beginning today and lasting a lifetime through — hang in there, and don’t be afraid to feel like the morning sun is shiningâ€¦ just for you.”
And so it is.
P.S. We will always lovingly remember the late Betty Getubig, the “mommy” we ran to at FilAmSODC. She was the one who talked to me in early April of 2005 and asked me to take the Caltrain to San Jose so I could help out because FilAmSODC’s HNVF funding was in danger of being reduced. We miss you, Manang Betty!