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Sunnyside Miss Cinco de Mayo program hits snag

Behind the wide smiles and parade waves, there is unrest within the Sunnyside Miss Cinco de Mayo program.

Some past court members say they were shorted meals, clothing and left wondering what happened to the money they raised.

Coordinator Amy Rubio has accused a past president of the court's committee with theft and the Miss Cinco de Mayo program has let its non-profit status expire.

Members from the most recent court to complete an entire year with the title say there have been problems brewing for a while.

2008-09 Miss Cinco de Mayo Jazmine Salmeron said she and her court members were only provided meals on a couple of occasions during their year on the court.

"Being a role model and doing community service from morning to night, you need to be fed and taken care of. I never got that vibe from Amy," said Salmeron. "There's gas, food, those little extra things we need. We go to events and come home starving."

A point of contention for all of the girls is that they only received a business outfit and an evening gown. That was in keeping with the contract they signed when they were selected to the court. Still, Salmeron feels there is enough money for the court to be treated a little better.

Case in point, she says, is this past winter the girls wanted a warm outfit for the Lighted Farm Implement Parade. When Rubio said there weren't enough funds, Salmeron said she and the girls and their families were left with putting together a fundraiser. Salmeron says the families paid for the coats and scarves themselves and that court members never saw the money they raised for the winter outfits.

Daniela Ramos was a princess on the 2008-09 court and she said the winter outfits were an issue. "We had to buy those ourselves." Ramos said there was also a question about where the money was going. "We did have questions about the money and where it went to, but we weren't allowed to see that."

Rubi Chavez was a court member with Ramos, and she also remembers wondering about the funds and having concerns about the program's management.

"Everybody thinks being on the Cinco de Mayo court is smiles and it's really not because of the way it was managed," she said.

Because Chavez feels there should be better communication between Rubio and the committee, the Sunnyside High School senior is joining the committee.

"What I hope to do is get everybody informed about what's going on," says Chavez. "No secrets, everything revealed."

Margarita Manzo, another member of the 2008-09 court, says she doesn't see much of the money raised going back into the court each year.

"We don't go to far away pageants and we were required to buy some of the things ourselves," says Manzo. "If we raised so much money, where was it going?"

The money it takes to just be a candidate for the court is not cheap. Each participant in the pageant must generate at least $850 in sponsorships and ticket sales.

Multiply that amount times eight candidates, as was the case two years ago, and it comes to $6,800.

Salmeron said she and her family added up all of the expenses and scholarships promised to the court and figure that only a little over half of the money was actually spent.

"Where's the rest of the money?" she asked.

That's the question the pageant's committee, or what's left of it, is asking, too.

Angela Farias is a past president of the pageant's committee, and says for the past two years Rubio has been running the court program on her own.

Rubio has been the only one taking money out of the bank account set up for the court, said Farias.

That was until last week when Farias withdrew $1,250 so the 2007-08 court members could finally receive the college scholarships promised them.

The amount was withdrawn in the form of cashier's checks made out to the girls, with $500 for that year's Miss Cinco de Mayo, Alejandra Bobadilla, and $250 for each of her three princesses.

In a telephone message to Farias, Bobadilla thanked her several times for sending the long awaited funds, noting the money came at just the right time because of college expenses.

After hearing of the withdrawal, Rubio filed theft charges against Farias with Sunnyside police, despite the fact Farias is a signer on the account and said she consulted with other committee members before taking out the money.

Rubio was contacted for this story but opted not to comment.

Farias also said she had witnesses present in the form of a bank employee and committee member when she withdrew the funds.

Charlotte Hinderlider from the Sunnyside Police Department said officers are still interviewing witnesses in the case to determine if Rubio's accusation is actually theft or if it is a civil matter.

Farias said the committee will decide the matter if it is a civil issue rather than a criminal one.

A committee meeting may not be all that easy, since Farias says the committee actually hasn't met in two years and has been largely kept in the dark about the Miss Cinco de Mayo program and its funds.

That's about to change, as a newly formed committee with new bylaws will soon be formed, said Farias, as a way to make sure that all the activities and transactions are accounted for.

On top of all that, Farias says that Rubio allowed the Miss Cinco de Mayo program's non-profit status to lapse.

Without the non-profit designation, those who donate money and services to the program can no longer write it off on their taxes as a charitable contribution.

Farias, who has been a part of the Miss Cinco de Mayo program since 1997, says a priority is to get the status resumed for future contributions to the program.

Above all, she wants to see the courts past and present protected.

"We are trying to get things in order to where they are supposed to be," Farias said. "It's for the benefit of the girls."

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