Former MACSA officials turn themselves in

John Chase, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney with the Public Integrity Unit, speaks during a press conference Thursday in San Jose about their investigation into the Mexican American Community Services Agency, a San Jose-based organization know

Two former leaders of the Mexican American Community Services Agency who allegedly used employees’ retirement savings for school supplies, a salary raise, a YMCA membership, food from local supermarkets, computers, office supplies and other general operating costs turned themselves in last week on charges of felony grand theft.

Olivia Soza-Mendiola, former CEO of MACSA – a San Jose-based organization that once operated the now defunct El Portal Leadership Academy charter school in Gilroy before it shut down in 2009 – turned herself in April 18 to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department and was released the same day, according to Public Information Officer Sgt. Jose Cardoza with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.

Soza-Mendiola, 53, of San Jose is scheduled to appear in court at 9:30 a.m. May 2 in the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice, located on 190 W. Hedding St. in San Jose. Her bail was set at $10,000, according to spokesman Sean Webby with the DA’s office. 

Since leaving MACSA in 2009, Soza-Mendiola has worked part-time in the admissions and recruitment office of a nonprofit Center for Employment Training in San Jose, where she earned $27 per hour according to CET President and CEO Hermelinda Sapien. Soza-Mendiola is no longer a CET employee as of Friday according to Sapien, who said she could not specify whether Soza-Mendiola resigned or was let go. 

Former MACSA CFO Benjamin Tan, 61, of South San Francisco, turned himself in April 20 and was released the same day on $10,000 bail. Webby does not have any information yet concerning Tan’s court date.

If convicted, Soza-Mendiola and Tan could spend up to three years in jail, get slapped with a $10,000 fine each and be ordered to pay full restitution to the employees who lost their retirement funds, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Soza-Mendiola and Tan are accused of illegally skimming more than $1 million away from their employees’ pension and 403(b) retirement accounts to pay for MACSA’s general operating expenses between 2004 and 2009.

“They did this knowing that the employees’ paycheck stubs falsely represented that this money was being paid to the retirement accounts,” read a press release from the DA.

At least some of those diverted retirement funds contributed to $20,000 in extra take-home pay for Soza-Mendiola, according to a “statement of probable cause” in support of an arrest warrant issued by the DA’s office. The fact Soza-Mendiola “suddenly stopped” her own personal retirement plan contributions just months before MACSA ceased to make its required contribution payments for employee pensions “suggests (she) knew this in advance,” according to the statement.

A lawsuit filed by John Marshall Collins, the San Jose lawyer retained by MACSA’s new leaders, has also been filed against several former MACSA employees including Soza-Mendiola and Tan. The suit contends negligence and breach of fiduciary duty on top of damages including injury to reputation, lengthy and probing investigations by the DA’s Office, lost ability to raise funds by means of charitable donations and severe damage to employee morale.  

“All I can tell you at this time is that the suit is ongoing,” wrote Collins via email. “I can’t make any other comment.”

MACSA’s new Board Director Michael Lopez was contacted for comment but has not returned phone calls.

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