The chief executive officer for the nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization has been temporarily suspended while a Texas judge put the brakes on its board election.
Domingo García, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told Latino Rebels that CEO Sindy Benavides has been “temporarily suspended pending an investigation by the personnel committee of LULAC.”
Benavides could not be immediately reached for comment.
García confirmed the tip received by Latino Rebels after a judge in Texas ordered the organization to put its election on pause. The order from the Dallas judge came after five leaders of LULAC councils filed a lawsuit against board members the night before hundreds of delegates from across the U.S. were expected to vote in-person for 12 national positions, including the organization’s next president.
The LULAC council leaders filed the lawsuit to prevent the New Progressive Party (PNP in Spanish), a pro-statehood political party in Puerto Rico, from rigging the election. The lawsuit called the election “entirely illegitimate” and said the PNP “devised a scheme to take over LULAC’s leadership.”
“The Plaintiffs hope that this action ensures that LULAC has fair elections and that partisan entities will stay out of trying to control LULAC’s officers and affairs,” said Jeffery Tillotson, who is representing the LULAC council leaders in the lawsuit.
In the order halting the election, the judge found that the defendants continued to engage in “a fraudulent and illicit scheme to place LULAC under the irreversible control of a foreign political party in violation of LULAC.”
García is listed among the defendants but does not support the infiltration.
“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,” García said in a statement.
“We’re just very concerned that an outside partisan third party appears to have attempted to influence and buy the national leadership of LULAC,” García told Latino Rebels.
After Benavides told The Hill in March that the group was supporting the push for statehood, in June García reiterated LULAC’s position on Puerto Rico’s status as being one of neutral respect for the self-determination of the Puerto Rican people.
The LULAC council leaders that filed the lawsuit alleged that the PNP used illicit political funds to form nearly 300 councils in the last three months, spending over $700,000 to ensure control over the election.
“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,” García said.
LULAC council leaders also alleged in their lawsuit that the PNP hopes to elect Juan Carlos Lizardi as LULAC’s next president. Lizardi was slated to run against García in this year’s election.
After the election was postponed, Lizardi, the son of LULAC board member and statehood activist Elsie Valdes. posted a statement on Facebook.
“A strategy was used to influence not having an election by discouraging or preventing members from voting,” Lizardi said. “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.”
As LULAC carries out its investigation, LULAC officers are prohibited from participating in any election-related activity until this Friday, unless determined otherwise at the judge’s scheduled hearing for the lawsuit.
“LULAC has always fought against corruption and for the civil rights of all Latinos, and we are doing this with this attempt by an outside party to try and take over LULAC,” García said.
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal