Charity Official Resigns
Reformer at Ministry Cites Financial Abuses, Says Priest Won't Yield

By Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News
November 22, 2003

The leader of reform efforts at a Dallas priest's scandal-plagued charity has given up, saying that the Rev. Justin Lucio refused to surrender power to board members and that financial abuses were continuing.

Gonzalo Aguilera also called for a crackdown by the Texas attorney general's office, which investigated the charity several months ago and let it keep operating in return for promises that it would make several changes.

"They really need to take a close look," said Mr. Aguilera, who resigned a few days ago as president of Casita Maria, an immigration-counseling service in Oak Cliff. "There are so many, so many, so many things wrong that I said, 'I don't want to be a part of this.' "

Father Lucio, Casita's executive director, declined to comment. So did his religious superiors, although, on a separate front, the Dallas Catholic Diocese newspaper said Father Lucio "is defying church law and his bishop" by celebrating Mass at Casita. "He is no longer considered a priest in good standing."

Diocese spokesman Bronson Havard has stressed that the suspended priest and Casita receive no money from the diocese.

The attorney general investigated Casita earlier this year in response to Dallas Morning News reports showing that the agency had collected millions from its poor Latino clients while spending large sums to benefit Father Lucio and his associates. State investigators concluded that "there have been several instances of impropriety" but blamed them largely on ignorance.

Attorney General Greg Abbott could sue to shut down Casita if he decided that it was not making promised changes. His spokesman Tom Kelley said on Friday that investigators "would appreciate talking to anyone who might have information about the charity."

The News' reports also prompted Internal Revenue Service and immigration investigations. Federal regulators have declined to comment on the status of those cases.

Financial questions

Mr. Aguilera said he recently discovered that the wife of Casita's vice president had been put on the payroll despite conflict-of-interest concerns raised during the attorney general's investigation.

Raquel Lincen was making more per hour than some Casita office employees, Mr. Aguilera said, yet her only job was cleaning the priest's DeSoto home. The charity owns that house and let Father Lucio and a young man described as a Casita maintenance worker live there virtually rent-free, The News reported in January. The house has since been put up for sale.

"They've got a clan," said Mr. Aguilera. "There has to be a better way to spend money."

Ms. Lincen's husband, Jose Lincen, responded by saying, "I don't know anything" and "The truth will prevail." He referred calls to Casita's attorney, Frank Sommerville, who declined to comment on Mr. Aguilera's statements.

Ms. Lincen did not respond to a telephone message.

Mr. Aguilera also said Casita's No. 2 employee, Joe Granados, has failed to fully pay for a Rolex watch that he took from the charity. "It's not near what the amount is supposed to be," he said.

Mr. Granados did not respond to a message left with his wife.

There are other irregularities, Mr. Aguilera said, but he declined to give details.

Turmoil on the board

At least one other member of Casita's six-member board, Juan Manuel Campos, also quit last week. He and another board member did not respond to telephone messages, while two others could not be reached for comment.

The board had already turned over completely since The News published its January reports. The attorney general required that Father Lucio and Mr. Granados no longer serve on the agency's board and that they repay $23,000 in charity funds spent "primarily for the benefit" of themselves.

Casita's new board also agreed to quit lending money, collect on interest-free loans made to staff, closely monitor spending, restrict use of corporate credit cards and "reassess the mission-relevance of all high-value assets."

Adelfa Callejo, a lawyer and civil-rights activist who once supported Father Lucio, said she did not blame Mr. Aguilera for quitting. He is widely respected as a former Spanish-language television news anchor but had not understood the long history of problems at Casita, she said.

"Father Lucio painted him a picture that [The Dallas Morning News ] were the bad guys," Ms. Callejo said. She has said that she cut ties with the priest several years ago after hearing complaints about Casita staff members charging high fees and driving expensive cars.

At least three other Dallas lawyers have broken with Father Lucio over the years, including Casita co-founder Ernesto Maldonado and former board members George Rodriguez and Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez.

Diocesan leaders have barred Father Lucio from parish duty for most of the last 15 years, at least initially because of allegations that he pressured two young immigrant men for sex. He denied wrongdoing, and the diocese eventually called the allegations unsubstantiated.

The accusations led Father Lucio to sue a layman who told diocesan leaders about the allegations. In a deposition taken before he dropped the case, the priest testified that he sometimes handled the genitals of parishioners who had health concerns.


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