Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
On Monday, after a tense exchange took place between a Pulse victim's mother and the former club's owner during a news conference announcing a bill that would designate the site as a federally recognized memorial, lawmakers moved to call for an audit of the onePULSE Foundation.
reported the exchange between Christine Leinonen – mother of Drew Leinonen, one of the 49 victims who was killed in the June 12, 2016, shooting – and Barbara Poma, Pulse's former owner who now heads the nonprofit onePULSE Foundation, on Monday. State Reps. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, and Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando – the lawmakers who are now calling for an independent audit – were among those in attendance, as were U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy and Val Demings and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan.
The calls came on the eve of the mass shooting's three-year anniversary.
It's inconvenient timing, Eskamani admits to Orlando Weekly
"It's a tough week, but at the same time I don't think we can delay a conversation of transparency, and I think that it's going to always be important as we continue to heal from this tragedy and see more support go toward the memorial," Eskamani says. "I want to be clear: This does not mean there's mal-intent. It just means transparency will help ensure the organization is strong and it will continue to earn the support of others."
Also, as Eskamani notes, according to the onePULSE Foundation's contract with Orange County for a $10 million grant to help break ground on the memorial and museum, county officials already require an audit.
Per a copy of the contract obtained by Orlando Weekly
, for up to five years after the project's completion, the contract states that the county and county comptroller "shall have the right to audit from time to time."
"The leadership and staff of the onePULSE Foundation take their mission and work very seriously, and any statement that the foundation has not been transparent with our finances and the work involved in fulfilling our mission is misguided," says onePULSE Foundation board chairman Earl Crittenden in a statement, noting that the charity hired the independent firm Holland & Reilly in January 2019 to conduct an audit of the 2018 fiscal year.
He says the audit will be finalized in July.
Crittenden adds: "We also want to emphasize that if a member of the public, a family member, a survivor or public official has questions about our finances, they are welcome to contact us. To date no member of the public has contacted our leadership about this issue."
Leinonen has previously blamed Poma for insufficient security at the club on the night of the fatal shooting and has joined several other families in suing Poma. Their lawsuit alleges negligence and wrongful death.
The lawsuit is currently pending in state court.
We've reached out to Leinonen, who was escorted from the news conference following her outburst yesterday, for comment but have not heard back.
Prior to Monday's press conference, Leinonen tagged Smith in a Facebook post Sunday night, in which she wrote, "Since you pushed for and got $500,000 of taxpayers money to help fund the Pulse memorial and that includes giving Poma a $75,000 annual executive salary [...] are you now going to the attorney general and finding out what happened to all of the monies collected through her [sic
] onepulse foundations?"
Leinonen added: "Why are people giving their hard earned dollars directly [to the onePULSE Foundation] and then additionally [through] their hard earned tax dollars to finance the extravagant Poma lifestyle?"
Smith replied the next afternoon, writing, "I think based on the amount of taxpayer money the onePULSE Foundation has received from state and county funds, they should be required to go thru [sic
] an independent audit. That would expose any misspending [and] it would give the public confidence in the financial stewardship of the organization."
We've reached out to Poma for comment but have not heard back.
According to the foundation's most recent tax returns
, the onePULSE Foundation raised roughly $375,000 and spent $254,000 in 2017. The tax returns cite Poma as the only paid employee, earning about $43,000.
The onePULSE Foundation projects it will take $50 million to complete the future memorial, including its design, construction, maintenance and 49 endowed scholarship funds. The foundation is currently in the process of selecting six teams of architects and artists to complete the memorial and has launched an international design competition to decide on a winner.
The design competition will be conducted in two stages, according to a news release from the onePULSE Foundation. The winning team will be selected by a panel made up of onePULSE stakeholders, local leaders and architects.
The foundation expects to announce a winner in October.
The 30,000-square-foot memorial and museum and expected to open sometime in 2022 and will include public gathering and community spaces. The onePULSE Foundation says it will be free and open to those who wish to visit year-round, regardless of the time or day.
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