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Monserrate’s grants probed

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As a published report again raised questions about City Councilman Hiram Monserrate’s (D−East Elmhurst) involvement with a failed nonprofit in Corona, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside his office in East Elmhurst to call on him and his chief of staff, Julissa Ferreras, to resign.

Five people held up signs reading “Corona’s Bridge to Nowhere: LIBRE.” Ostensibly, they were from the group Concerned Citizens for Corona, though it was unclear who organized the demonstration.

Carlos Zamora, the name listed with the media notice, said he had not been contacted about it and had not authorized the use of his name.

Zamora did, however, say he wanted to see Monserrate and Ferreras resign.

The minor outcry came after The New York Times reported Sunday that the group Latino Initiative for Resources and Better Empowerment could not provide auditors with paperwork detailing what it did with $250,000 in Council discretionary funding from Monserrate.

LIBRE ran English classes, immigration assistance, job placement programs and health education services, according to its Web site. It shut down after auditors from the Department of Youth and Community Development began investigating in May, The Times reported.

Monserrate issued a statement about LIBRE earlier this year after it was revealed the group had not filed any tax documents since 2005.

“While I am extremely concerned about their poor bookkeeping, I am proud to have helped them and hope that they will address any issues concerning their performance,” he said in the statement.

Ferreras, who was listed in a 2005 tax return as the nonprofit’s chairwoman, said she did not understand how the funds could be disbursed without documentation.

“An organization that was receiving that type of funding had to provide some type of paperwork,” she said. “It’s just very hard to believe that the agency would release such funds without any paperwork.”

When asked about The Times’ assertion that the DYCD only required expense reports, and not receipts, Ferreras said “day−to­day” records were the executive director’s responsibility.

Protester Victor Alonzo, 33, of Corona, said Monserrate should “be honest and let people know what’s going on.” He said he did not know anything about LIBRE outside of recent newspaper stories.

Jaime Aracena, also of Corona, had a simple complaint: “We want the answer about how they used the money.” He, too, said he had not participated in any LIBRE programs.

Both men said they were there because of a friend, Jennifer Fernandez, who was apparently was not present at the demonstration. The men did not have a contact number for Fernandez.

The demonstration also drew one skeptic, Elmhurst activist Humberto Suarezmotta, who speculated that the protest was part of a strategy to defame a Latino elected official.

“There is something behind this that wants to strip what little we have away,” he said, though he added he agreed that the nonprofit should be investigated.

“The question is very fair,” he said. “We want to know what happened to the funds.”

Monserrate allocated at least $167,000 to LIBRE in discretionary funds in the last two fiscal years, according to city budget records.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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