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Puerto Rican Day Parade Will Go on Despite Corruption Probe: Supporters

By Jeff Mays | February 17, 2014 12:07pm
 Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has forced out half of the board that operates the Puerto Rican Day Parade because their lax oversight allowed a marketing agent for the group to misappropriate more than $1.4 million dollars in donations.
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HARLEM — The beleaguered Puerto Rican Day Parade will march this year even after the former managers were ousted in a fraud scandal.

That's the message Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the parade's new managing board are sending days after Schneiderman released a report showing the parade had been woefully mismanaged and was defrauded out of $1 million by its marketing representative.

"We state with certainty and emphatically that there will be a parade on June 8," said new board member Carmen Pacheco, the founding partner at the law firm Pacheco & Lugo. "I believe that nothing can stop or impede the parade and its parade goals. We state that as a board emphatically."

Schneiderman, too, offered assurances— and fundraising help.

"If there are any great new sponsors out there we would very, very much like them to get in touch with the board," Schneiderman said at a press conference last week announcing the findings of a probe into the parade.

"We will all be helping with this effort and I think this year's parade should be bigger and better than ever."

Not everyone agrees.

Leading up to and after the announcement of the findings of the attorney general's investigation, state Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. from The Bronx hammered Schneiderman, saying that the timing of the investigation would "destroy" this year's parade.

"I don't know if the new board will have the time. The parade may not be as majestic," Diaz said. "They could have waited three months to do this."

Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, dismissed Diaz's complaints as just politics, but added that he's heard similar rumblings from the Puerto Rican community.

"He doesn't want to be remembered as the guy who destroyed the Puerto Rican Day Parade," Falcon said of Schneiderman. "He's up for re-election. The parade is in June and the election is right afterward. A lot of people have questions."

Some question whether the attorney general used the right approach, since no criminal charges were filed against Carlos Velasquez, head of Galos Corp., the company accused of misappropriating the $1 million. Others wonder whether Schneiderman should have installed a new board while the investigation continued to allow them more time to plan the parade.

Political observers say they aren't surprised by Schneiderman's assurances. If the parade is going to recruit and retain corporate sponsors, a must given that it now attracts more than 1 million people to Fifth Avenue every year, they are going to have to be reassured that all the corruption has been cleared out.

Schneiderman explained that his office had expedited the investigation, adding additional resources to finish a complex review in just eight months, or "record time."

Under the settlement with the attorney general's office, Velasquez will have to pay the board $100,000 and cancel a $1 million debt he claimed he was owed by the board.

By investigating the parade, Schneiderman was dipping his toe into already murky waters because the 56-year-old event has a long history of corruption.

The late Ramon Velez, famously referred to as a "poverty pimp" for the network of Bronx social services he ran that helped him become wealthy, lorded over the parade as his own personal fiefdom and was banned from participating for a while in 1978.

In recent years there have been complaints about the parade not giving out promised scholarship funds and the high costs to participate. Others saw the parade as being too much about corporate advertisers and scantily clad women and not enough about celebrating Puerto Rican culture.

For decades, the Puerto Rican Day Parade has been about more than the Fifth Avenue celebration. It has also been a barometer of who's-who in New York's Latino political leadership.

During the attorney general's press conference, MTA Vice Chairman Fernando Ferrer, an elder statesman in the city's Latino community, spoke of a "new generation of Puerto Rican leaders" bringing a higher level of ethics to the parade.

Pushing out the old leadership is a sign of a changing of the guard among Latino politicians, said Falcon, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito assuming a more visible role.

Also on the new board is Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, an executive vice-president at AARP who was the first Latino to serve as New York's secretary of state.

Change can be good, said Falcon, as long as someone is watching the new guard.

"I think then there is a real possibility of rallying people around the parade and having it return to its original mission of uplifting the community," he said.