In last year’s presidential election, Bexar County swung more solidly Democrat than it had since 1976 when 54 percent of registered voters backed a one-time Georgia peanut farmer to force out disgraced President Nixon’s ex Vice. As 52 percent of registered voters clicked the Obama button, the Bexar County Democratic Party seemed to be on the mend after years of instability. At least that was the appearance to those not sitting in on the group’s finance committee or executive board.
While the faithful worked to transform enthusiasm over Obama into donations, current and former members of the party’s leadership allege Bexar County Democratic Party Treasurer Dwayne Adams had already siphoned off thousands in state funds from the party’s primary election account.
In all, more than $202,000 is said to be missing, according to Carla Vela, who resigned as chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party last week to seek a seat as County Clerk.
As Adams’ superior, and some would say defender, Vela has also fallen under a harsh light since last week’s revelation. “Like anything else, when there’s trouble, the snakes come out,” Vela said of a former party treasurer and former precinct chairman who criticized her in a recent Express-News article.
But did she miss the warning signals?
“If the [executive committee] was concerned, or these people, they should have brought it up to the body, you know, and urged it more,” she said. “Hindsight, I wish I would have done things a little different or been on [Adams] more or got to the bank sooner. I wish I had done a lot of things different. … That was my fault, I trust or believe people.”
But repeated requests for financial information and a bounced $100,000 check last summer should have prompted earlier action by Vela, said Jamie Lewis, an exec committee member and county deputy chair for Precinct 3. “I asked month after month, meeting after meeting, for clarity,” Lewis said. “I was distressed that this man was our treasurer and he couldn’t put together a bank report, but we were told by the chair to back off. I don’t care what she says, that’s what I heard.”
In fact, despite sustained complaints, Vela didn’t check on the bank account until the day before she announced her resignation, saying she was then “shocked to see what had happened.”
Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said he referred Vela and Interim Party Chair Roberto Flores last week to the white collar crimes division of the San Antonio Police Department. An officer with that department said only the matter is “under investigation.”
However, Vela said Flores has yet to submit the official complaint to SAPD, and Lewis said Adam’s attorney is still promising his client will return the money. Deputy Chair of Precinct 2, Angie Garcia, says while the scandal will not be good for the party, “We will survive.”
Of course, the party will march on, but will the ambitious Vela?
“We demand Carla Vela turn herself in to the DA, because she’s just as responsible as the person who stole the money,” said Gilbert Gallego, of the United Public Workers of Texas. “The corruption has gotten out of hand. They’re not only hurting the party, they’re hurting the community.”
Ian Straus, deputy party chair for Precinct 4 said Vela has a degree of culpability. “I’m sure that will be the opinion of the Secretary of State, whose money that really is,” Straus said.
Adams’ listed phone number has been disconnected, and his attorney, Charles Jones, failed to return calls to the Current. Flores also failed to return repeated calls for comment.
At the top of the Bexar County Democrats hompage it reads: “Dollars for Democrats! Rent, utilities, and supplies for the party office are paid for with donations from Bexar County Democrats like you.” Depending on the outcome of the SAPD investigation, any number of other items could be added to that list.
“I feel so sorry for the budget and finance guys. Person after person dropped out of that committee,” said Lewis. “They couldn’t get anything from Duane [Adams], and Carla would not let them push. Where she gets in trouble from me: She’s the chair, I don’t care if your committee’s supposed to do something or your treasurer is supposed to do something, ultimately the buck stops with you. So you should know what’s going on. There’s no escaping that.”
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