LOS ANGELES — A community leader faces possible jail term after pleading no contest this week to a felony charge of filing a false financial statement in an alleged misuse of more than $200,000 of city funds at a multi-cultural senior center in San Jose.
Ben Menor, 57, former head of Northside Community Center, entered the plea before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham. He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 24, and faces three years in jail or three years probation.
Two grand theft felony charges against Menor were dismissed after he agreed to pay restitution totaling $51,000 to the city. He had faced a maximum of four years, four months in prison if he were convicted on all charges.
A 'no contest' is a plea in criminal trials where the defendant neither admits nor disputes a charge, serving as an alternative to a pleading of guilty or not guilty. While it is not technically a guilty plea, it has the same immediate effect as a guilty plea, and is often offered as a part of a plea bargain – in which a prosecutor and a defendant arrange to settle the case against the defendant.
Menor pleaded no contest to the charge that he overstated by 24,000 hours the amount of time he and his agency worked under contract with the city to run the Northside Community Center, a senior housing and community center on North Sixth Street in San Jose.
Menor was arraigned in November 16, 2006 in the same county court on one felony count of violating the California Corporation Code Section 6812 (False Statement of Operations) and two felony counts of violating the California Penal Code 487 (Grand Theft/Embezzlement).
Menor is a well-respected personality on the West Coast’s Filipino community. He helped build and run the 92-unit senior housing and community center, which was used by Filipinos, Sikhs and Indo-Americans and was considered a model of multi-cultural cooperation and partnership when it opened in 2003.
Menor’s non-profit organization, the Filipino-American Senior Opportunities Development Council, was under contract with the city to operate the center. He was the executive director.
In 2004, however, some members of Menor’s board accused him of internal wrongdoings; they sought police intervention and charged Menor with fiscal mismanagement. Those accusations led to a city audit, which concluded Menor misused $219,000 in publicly-funded grants.
Early in 2006 the city took over operation of the center, and later the same year, he was indicted on one count of false statements and two counts of grand theft. The grand theft charges indictment involved Menor’s alleged use of $30,000 of city funds to pay for home care for his elderly parents.
Another count involved use of restricted funds for a conference he organized for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) in August 2002.
Menor was a former official of NaFFAA, a nationally-recognized nonprofit organization and the largest Filipino advocacy group in the U.S. Following his plea, Menor showed relief than guilt.
"I’m just feeling tremendous relief," San Jose’s Mercury News quoted him, adding he had nothing "to say anymore because we’re still in the final stages" of the legal resolution to the case."
His lawyer also declined comment. -GMANews.TV