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26189: Holmstead (News): FWD-HAITIAN IMMIGRATION SCANDAL (fwd)
FROM: John Holmstead <email@example.com>
HAITIAN IMMIGRATION SCANDAL
Indicted charity trying to revive
As a federal criminal investigation continues, a
Haitian-oriented charity facing fraud charges intends
to resume operations right away.
BY DAN CHRISTENSEN AND DARRAN SIMON
A Haitian-American charity under federal indictment
for defrauding thousands of illegal immigrants plans
to reopen Tuesday in Broward amid questions about its
political ties to Republican activists.
Six weeks ago, a federal grand jury charged the
Haitian-American Community Help Organization with
swindling at least $3 million from immigrants. The
undocumented aliens paid HACHO $450 each for work
permits it couldn't provide and failed to deliver,
according to the indictments.
During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election,
HACHO used a political pitch to lure victims to
Florida from around the country, two sources told The
Brooklyn, N.Y., immigration lawyer Joseph Famuyide
said dozens of clients told him they'd heard that
HACHO had access to a special aliens work permit
program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in an effort to win
votes for his brother, President George Bush, among
Florida's sought-after immigrant voters. ''I was
asking people over and over, why Florida?'' recalled
Famuyide. ``The people at HACHO were floating that
argument just to convince people . . . People were
traveling to Florida from all over the country.''
The group's use of that political pitch was also
confirmed by Lucy Orlando, a former HACHO executive
There was no such special work permit program in
Florida, however. Congress makes laws regarding
immigration, not the states or governors.
''No group has ever been promised or received any
preferential treatment,'' said Russell Schweiss, a
spokesman for Gov. Bush.
Federal agents and prosecutors declined comment while
the investigation continues. But the presence of three
Broward Republican activists among HACHO's executive
officers, including one with close ties to the
governor, has raised questions about HACHO's
65 YEARS IF CONVICTED
HACHO Executive Director Gomez Accime, charged with
conspiracy and mail fraud in the alleged advance-fee
scam, faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted. He
mentioned his political ties in a written statement in
which he pointed the finger of guilt at two HACHO
employees, one of whom is now dead.
''If I were planning to engage in fraudulent
activities, I would never get so involved in the
Broward County Republican Party,'' Accime said in the
statement sent to The Herald last month by HACHO
founder Al Bonnie. Accime declined to be interviewed,
Accime's Republican political mentor was Weston
resident Lucy Orlando, HACHO's ''counseling and
community advocate.'' Orlando is also president of the
Broward-based Haitian-American Republican Caucus.
Orlando, 61, a retired nurse, is a vocal, highly
visible Haitian-American activist with strong
political ties to Gov. Bush. She's given generously to
both the state and national Republican parties. She
held a Bush-Cheney fundraiser at her Weston home in
May 2004, and said President Bush called to say thanks
while it was going on.
According to Orlando, she worked at HACHO from time to
time in 2004 without pay to help immigrants obtain
needed social services. But at the same time, she and
Accime were involved together in a number of political
WHITE HOUSE VISIT
In February 2004, Orlando said, she and Accime were
part of a delegation that went to the White House to
oppose then-Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Aristide was deposed later that month.
Orlando said she and Accime also attended together the
Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Miami
Beach in April 2004 and the Republican National
Convention in New York City that August. A photo of
Orlando, peppered with ''Bush for President'' buttons,
ran in newspapers across the country, including The
HACHO, based in a Lauderdale Lakes strip mall, would
seem far removed from such high-powered political
gatherings. The federally tax-exempt organization's
fliers describe HACHO as a ''Haitian oriented social
agency'' offering services to immigrants, including
job training, financial assistance and ``voter
The nature and extent of those services, and how HACHO
paid for them, is unclear. While HACHO's flier said
the group was engaged in fundraising -- Lauderdale
Lakes gave $10,000 in 2003 -- HACHO representatives
would not release the group's federal income tax
AN OFFICIAL CHARITY
HACHO was designated a 501(c)(3) charity by the IRS in
2001. By law, federal charities with over $25,000 in
annual gross receipts are required to make their tax
returns available for public inspection.
HACHO appears to fit that criteria. Accime, in his
statement blaming others, has acknowledged that HACHO
lost about $2 million.
A sign on HACHO's door, at 4693 N. State Road 7,
informs the curious that HACHO will reopen on Tuesday.
Accime will still be in charge.
''Gomez will be there,'' said Bonnie, of Fort
Lauderdale. ``He's still the executive director. He
has done nothing wrong.''
Accime's Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Sebastian Cotrone,
echoed that assessment.
''My guy says he didn't do anything wrong,'' Cotrone
HACHO's political ties extended to Democrats. HACHO's
letterhead boasts a board of advisors that includes
Broward Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Fort
Lauderdale Commissioner Carlton Moore and two aides to
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar.
But Eggelletion and Moore said last week they didn't
know they were on HACHO's board and never gave
permission for their names to be used. Hastings'
office provided reporters with a copy of a letter that
one of the aides wrote to Accime more than a year ago
instructing him to remove their names from HACHO's
ORLANDO OUT NOW
Orlando was listed on HACHO stationery last year as
both a board advisor and an executive officer of
HACHO. She said, however, that her name was used
without her permission and that while she did do
volunteer work for HACHO she never held those posts.
Orlando said she split with Accime last October after
news broke that two New York agencies, including the
Office of Citizenship Services in Gov. George Pataki's
office, were investigating HACHO for possible fraud.
At the time, Orlando said, she and her husband, Serge,
were volunteering at HACHO.
Orlando said that because of her affiliation with
HACHO, she became an object of suspicion by some in
the Haitian community. Some of those suspicions were
voiced on Haitian radio, she said.
Orlando has not been charged with any crime.
''I heard people say I got $5 million from Gomez
[Accime],'' she said last week. ``But nobody ever
asked me. If they asked me, I'd tell them.''
Orlando also said she told Gov. Bush's office about
the political pitch HACHO used to attract immigrants
willing to pay $450 for a work permit.
The governor's spokesman, Schweiss, said Orlando
contacted the governor's office sometime after news of
the investigation became public last year. He said she
``was informed that we cannot provide assistance in
matters of a criminal investigation.''
The Rev. O'Neal Dozier, another Republican activist on
HACHO's board, said Orlando told him months ago Accime
was involved in fraud. Dozier, pastor of Worldwide
Christian Center in Pompano Beach, also said Accime
claimed that Orlando was ``trying to slander my name
and trying to put the feds and Gov. Jeb Bush on me.''
Dozier, president of the Jerome E. Gray Republican
Club and a 2001 Bush appointee to Broward's Judicial
Nominating Commission, said he became associated with
HACHO because Accime attends his church. 'He comes
faithfully and I looked up one day and he came to me
and said, `Oh, we added you to our board.' I said
OK,'' said Dozier. `We gave them a donation a few
times . . . I'm really not involved with HACHO.''
According to the July indictment, HACHO filed more
than 10,000 fraudulent immigration forms between April
2003 and last June.
One undocumented immigrant from New Jersey who
traveled to Florida in October 2004 to get a work
permit at HACHO said she waited in line two days
before an HACHO employee took her money, filled out a
form, and told her to sign it. The woman, a native of
Dominica who declined to be identified, said she later
found out HACHO listed her as a refugee.
Sidney Charles, a Miami businessman and former
Bush-Cheney campaign official who served as chairman
of Haitians for Bush, attended several meetings at
HACHO last year after meeting Accime at the Southern
Republican Leadership Conference. He said that since
the indictment he has become concerned that HACHO may
have misused the GOP and might embarrass it.
One reason for concern was what Charles said was
Accime's offer -- rejected -- to set up a Bush
reelection operation last year at HACHO's offices.
''I told him I didn't think that was legal,'' said
Charles. Federally tax-exempt charities are not
allowed to engage in partisan political activity.
Charles, too, said he was ''very concerned'' by
continuing ''rumors'' in the Haitian community and on
Haitian radio about Orlando's alleged ability to use
her Republican connections ''to make things happen''
Orlando, though, doesn't seem worried about the fraud
allegations or the rumors that she was pulling strings
in the background. ''I got nothing to do with that,''
Orlando said. ``People are very wicked.''
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