A string of trouble for advocacy group Hermandad

The indictment is latest blow in long-running fight over use of public funds.

Hermandad Mexicana Nacional — a grass-roots organization created to further immigrants’ rights — has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, from the death of its revered leader, Bert Corona, to accusations of misuse of public funds.

The latest hurdle, an indictment filed against the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional Legal Center, an affiliated nonprofit created in 1985, was an expected development in a long-running fight over the alleged misuse of millions in federal funds intended for citizenship and English classes for adults.

Margo De Ley, who was chairwoman of the legal center’s board during the time the money was spent, said she is confident that the funding went to help immigrants. I can say without any doubt that all money that the organization ever received went to serve the community,” said De Ley, who lives in Chicago and is no longer affiliated with any of the Hermandad Mexicana organizations. That was the commitment, and that was what always was done.”

De Ley, the daughter of Corona, who died in January at age 82, said she knew the U.S. Attorney’s Office was working on an indictment in the case but had not had a chance to read the document.

The indictment against the Los Angeles office caps a trying year for the Hermandad Mexicana organizations in Santa Ana and Los Angeles.

In May, the California Department of Education filed a $17 million lawsuit against the legal center and the Santa Ana organization, which is run by Santa Ana Unified school board member Nativo Lopez, over alleged misuse of adult-education monies. The department is suing to recover $7 million in grants and $10 million in punitive damages, alleging that the group cannot account for funding intended for English, citizenship and general education classes.

The issue has been simmering since 1998, when the department ordered Hermandad’s offices here and in Los Angeles to return more than $4.3 million in state grants after auditors found record- keeping problems.

Hermandad has denied the allegations and said the monies were used to educate immigrants.

After Corona’s death, Lopez and Corona’s widow, Angelina, differed over who should run Hermandad Mexicana Nacional. She took charge of the Los Angeles organization, and Lopez later announced he would open additional offices there as well, though Corona said each organization was supposed to operate within its own area.

In 1996, Hermandad Mexicana Nacional in Santa Ana came under fire over accusations of voter fraud — which were never proved — following Loretta Sanchez’s victory over then-Rep. Robert Dornan.

Register reporter Courtney Perkes contributed to this report.

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