Ray Estrella Fought the Santa Ana Elks Lodge and the Lodge Won

The onetime exalted ruler tried to the lodge into the 21st Century

During that time, Estrella sought to establish programs for young people and to reach out to the entrenched Latino neighborhood By the time he left, however, Estrella and a group of Latino Elks had grown disillusioned with the organization over failed attempts to reform policies and prepare the lodge for the future. Longtime members and high-ranking officers—old white men one and all—dismissed him and other Latino members who were trying to bring the lodge out of the stone age as members of "the Mexican Mafia."

Estrella's clash with the old guard finally reached a climax at the lodge's Dec. 20, 2011, meeting, at which time he was serving as a trustee. At first, Estrella sat patiently, listening to committee reports. Then Estrella asked Dan Fernandez, his replacement as exalted ruler, for permission to approach the microphone. As two of the relatively few Latino members of the lodge, Estrella and Fernandez had struck up a friendship over the years, but increasingly, the former viewed the latter as a figurehead of the old-school Elks who was being groomed to stymie his efforts to reform the lodge.

Nobody, least of all Fernandez, was prepared for what Estrella announced—serious allegations had been made against Fernandez, a stocky, mustachioed man in his early 60s. Without explaining what those allegations were, Estrella demanded an investigation. This won an immediate rebuke from the meeting's presiding judge, who, Estrella says, screamed at him, telling him he was out of order. Finally, a lodge trustee asked for the matter to be tabled.

As Estrella walked away from the microphone, another lodge member asked what the allegations were about. Estrella responded—sexual harassment of a guest—and sat down. Another member asked if the harassment was against a man or a woman, at which point the meeting erupted into chaos, with several members shouting at Estrella, calling him a liar.

But Estrella wasn't lying. One lodge member who asked to not be named had indeed filed a formal complaint against Fernandez with the lodge's House Committee, alleging that on Nov. 8, 2011, he and three other witnesses saw Fernandez sexually harass a female guest who had volunteered to play "Taps" at the lodge for a Veterans Day observance.

The member—who was suspended in March after Fernandez filed a complaint against him, claiming the member had maliciously and falsely maligned him—says he introduced the woman to Fernandez in the lounge. Soon after, he says, Fernandez kissed her inappropriately and touched her breasts. Two other witnesses signed letters saying they saw an intoxicated Fernandez approach the woman, who was "already very uncomfortable by his presence."

"He stood at her left side, and after the introduction, he reached around her with both arms and gave her a long and tight hug while giving her a lingering kiss on the cheek," one witness stated. "Then he was facing her left side, so he didn't reach his head around hers for a quick peck on the cheek but a straight long kiss on her check [sic]." According to the witness, Fernandez "ran his right index finger across her name tag slowly with pressure and asked what the tag meant."

The Weekly was unable to interview Fernandez, who lives in a mobile-home park near the lodge. He did not respond to messages left at his home or the lodge.

But a series of Elks documents and emails obtained by the Weekly reveals that Fernandez's partying proclivities were hardly the most toxic aspects of the Elks Lodge that Estrella found himself pitted against. There was also abuse of kitchen staff, missing money, and the replacement of off-duty police officers with unlicensed, untrained security guards.

To this day, little has been done about any of those issues, says Estrella. Explains the former exalted ruler, "We have a history of cover-ups."

* * *

Between bites of breakfast at a Denny's in Anaheim, Estrella, a full-blooded Yaqui Indian with short, gray hair and a paunchy midsection, speaks with a quiet authority as he sits at the middle of a table surrounded by Elks. Indeed, Estrella—who served in the U.S. Army for more than 16 years, earning the rank of warrant officer in the Special Forces—seems at ease holding court, whether it be in a restaurant or a fractious fraternal lodge.

"I thought [joining the lodge] was a good idea," Estrella says.

And it was, in the first few years of his tenure. Even now, he recommends people join the lodge if they are looking for new friends and a fraternal order that helps the community through charitable outreach, with scholarship programs playing a prominent role. Under the right leadership, he says, a lodge can do wonders for the community.

But along with a soft spot for good deeds comes a veteran's fighting spirit. "The thing is," he says, "I don't take shit from anyone." It was with that kind of resolve that Estrella took leadership a decade after joining, quickly realizing that things were a mess. That, at least, was the conclusion of an outside accountant's audit. In a June 22, 2010, letter to the lodge's audit committee, just months after Estrella was elected exalted ruler and began to review the lodge's finances, West Covina-based Glenda H. Gow identified what she called "significant deficiencies" in the organization's internal controls, saying its assets were exposed to "high risk of losses."

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39 comments
afernandezkid
afernandezkid

i'm dan's daughter. and i researched this back because i wanted to see what you said about my dad. and these claims are ridiculous. my mom was right there when these said situation was claimed. she is his wife of 19 years and didn't think twice about what my dad did. my dad is a vietnam vet and earned his ranks and medals. he saved many americans from crazy danger and was rewarded for it. and as a daughter, i am crazy proud of him and what he did out there.

ray estrella was, and always be, a liar. he was butthurt that my dad didn't fall into his way of thinking. my dad earned his rank as exalted ruler. he started from the bottom and worked his way up. ray jumped into the top ranks like he was better than that. he ran the place like it was his own. my dad never asked for special mexican food for him & his family, my dad never thought it was cool to rent out the joint for his own personal gain like ray did. fact is, ray thought it was his own kingdom when he was the exalted ruler and sour because my dad followed the rules set forth and believed in them, and not the "mexican" way ray thought would continue once my dad came into office. he made my dad's term a living hell because of his jealousy...because everyone loves my parents in the club. yes, even my mom is an elk. and next year, she will be the new exalted ruler. do you think that would be possible if ray's accusations were correct? being a minority? not a chance.

why didn't anyone want to comment? why weren't charges pressed against him? why was nothing done but the expulsion of ray? coincidence? i think not...

i useta follow you on facebook, i useta grab your magazine every week...i don't think i can do either anymore. i'd rather pick up an enquirer. they're about as truthful as you are. thanks josh! you just lost a loyal reader. hope that works for you and your shit writing...

Elkdom
Elkdom

I don't know about the Santa Ana lodge but San Pedro is about the same.  Maybe it's because I wasn't that active in the first 15 years I was a member but now I am noticing the cronyism and nepotism.  The people in charge just want to get drunk and run the lodge like a bar.  They have no interest in the charitable causes of the Elks or volunteering.  They just want to drink and fight with each other.  There is so much misogyny and racism that it's very sad.  To see adults and senior citizens behave this way makes me think more and more that the Elks lodge will hopefully fade away.

Pegasus
Pegasus

Not at all. When you consider the millions of dollars generated by the Elks lodges that goes to thousands of local, state and national charities and scholarship programs, you might suspect there would be a considerable amount. Occasional localized personality conflicts such as this? To be expected. Unsubstantiated reporting of such in a local throw-away? Hysterical. Believing tabloid journalism? Priceless.

Jphayden
Jphayden

"Former Employees" are often also disgruntled. Are you also a "former employee" at all the other lodges you claim to be "screwed up"... or are you just assuming or repeating here-say as fact? Does a "few jerks" within a membership of over 1,000 truly make a lodge bad? Does it un-do all the good works and charitable efforts of the entire lodge and all of its members?

WOW
WOW

Talk about corrupt people. Wow!!

Former Employee
Former Employee

Former Employee here at the Santa Ana lodge. I do know all the people mentioned in this article and I can tell you that I don't know how the author could have gotten it so perfectly correct but he did. I know both Ray and Danny, and like both of them. I can tell you that Ray is 100 precent correct. Any Elks that happen to read my reply know your article is true. Not all Elks are bad, as a matter of fact most are very good people. The fact of the matter is there's a few jerks and the brotherhood circles the wagons to protect their reputation. There is a lot of financial coruption, social incorrectness and creepy individuals about Elkdom as a whole. I don't know what interest the general public would have in this article but I found it to be "to the point" and accurate. Santa Ana is a really screwed up lodge but so is Newport Beach, Westminister, Garden Grove and Fullerton. I commend Ray for breaking the unwritten Elks code and speaking out against the statis quo

Moving ON....Next!
Moving ON....Next!

As you know there two sides to every story. I'm a member and pulling the racist card is B.S. (he was fighting with his own kind) little control issue here. There are many ethnic groups throughout the Orange Coast District. As to why he whining to the OC weekly @ Dennys well no more free ride for him and his gang. This is like celebrity publicity…thanks Ray.

The lodges throughout OC are great, some better than others I recommend checking them all out!

Francisco J. Barragan
Francisco J. Barragan

.(My previous comment, only posted on Facebook but not here...so I am reposting).I know Ray Estrella.

Ray is also a Special Forces combat veteran. He was increasing membership by working on bringing in military veterans and professionals alike. This is the right kind of membership that any organization would want, because veterans are focused on service to community and transparency.

I am especially thankful in general to the Elks Lodge, and in particular Ray Estrella and the other Elks Lodge leaders who are military veterans (Jim Torres; Joe De La Luz; Gil Flores; Tony Abarca - one of five brothers who served in our military) and who were instrumental in the Elks Lodge hosting successful veteran focused events at the Santa Ana Elks Lodge, similar to the veteran focused events at the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove, in which I have participated and enjoyed for years as the commander of and with the participation of an Orange County based veterans organization.

As the past Chief Audit Executive in four multinational companies, I helped implement processes world-wide that resulted in a greater ethical, and transparent organizational culture. In my professional judgment, although resisted initially unless propelled by a crisis, full disclosure and transparency is best for any organization.

It is my sincere hope that full transparency and accountability is achieved, or the lingering perception of lack of accountability and transparency is addressed so that the Elks can continue without distraction in its great and noble mission of Sharing and Caring!

Francisco Paco Barraganhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/fra...

Tom Wilkie
Tom Wilkie

When Ray Estrella became Exalted Ruler of the Santa Ana Elks in 2010 there were 1300 members, not 4,000, as he stated in this article. Since he left, the Lodge still has latino officers and members, but not the harrassment that Ray put out when he was there and tried to take over much of the management without authority to do so. If this reporter would like to se, for himself, that there really is no discrimination present, just let me know and I'd be pleased to take him through the Lodge and introduce him to many members for their on site responses to this article. Tom Wilkie, Past Exalted Ruler, 1992.. My e-mail address is "ibi-ubu@prodigy.net"

Elk member
Elk member

The Santa Ana Elks, like any volunteer organization, is not quick to make changes. Anyone who has ever worked with any organization run by volunteers knows this. What this article does not talk about are all the charitable projects the SA Elks support. For example, ALL of the funds made at Bingo go to high school scholarships for students in Santa Ana, Tustin, and Irvine. The SA Elks purchase dictionaries for students to own in Tustin and Santa Ana schools. There is a community-wide event every year at the Santa Ana Zoo. There is a Christmas party for handicapped children, free of charge to them and their families. There is a steady stream of "care packages" sent to overseas troops. There is financial support for youth sports teams, boy and girl scouts, dental and vision screening, and much, much more. I am aquainted with all of the people mentioned in this article, and I am saddened that one has become so vindictive towards the Elks. To what purpose?

sleestack
sleestack

Hmmm, i don't think this article is of limited interest to people.... i saw the cover and actually read the entire article, which is really really rare for me (i usually use the weekly to find out what awesome metal bands are playing at the galaxy.... er i mean observatory), but for some reason, the entire concept of the elks, moose, shriners, masons, and water buffalos, etc totally intrigue me. Mostly because i love big old empty rooms, bingo halls, etc. But also i think its cute that old men can go someplace to eat and drink and be social instead of staying home watching jeopardy and raise money in the meantime. Reading this story has really made me want to go to Bingo on Monday nights (if it starts at 6, what time should i be there?), and also i looked into seeing if my husband should join but one of the first requirements is that you need to believe in God (hmmm, darn it). And we don't know any elks.The story does seem one-sided though. And its understandable that the members did not want to comment. I don't think the story was too negative toward members of the lodge, just the Fernandez guy who seems to like his booze and women. He's an old dude, he can get away with that. It's charming after age 65. But it does seem they might be in some hot water accounting for the money going in/out. That should really be more organized.... i hope this article will at least get the leaders to structure that so no one is getting ripped off and money isn't getting smuggled away when it could go to a family in need. I wish i knew an elk....But anyway, i loved reading the article, and my perception of the elks hasn't changed. I still think they are rad old guys out living life for the sake of doing good.

JP
JP

Very interesting article. Very slanted... very tainted. Tabloid journalism at its finest. An editorial weakly disguised as news. Go ahead and put that picture of your Mom back on the mantle. I don't think you'll be seeing the Pulitzer there anytime soon.

Within any society, any group or gathering... there will be dissension. There will power struggles. There will be egos. Its human nature. That's who we are. That's how we roll.

This is about as news worthy as the man who has a beef with his Home Owner's Association because he painted his front door the wrong color. Responsible journalism does not give such localized & petty disputes a platform. Nor does it taint itself with such obvious objectivity or rely on contrived, inflammatory imagery.

There may indeed be an issue at this particular Elks lodge. But does anyone seriously believe that this was of any interest to readers county-wide? Was this truly front page and cover worthy? A slow news week, was it? Or is it as commenter 'gustavoarellano' and alleged OC Weekly employee stated... "...we know what the OC public likes, and sordid tales are one of their favorite genres!"

Sordid Tale... indeed. News? Swing and a miss.

Francisco J. Barragan
Francisco J. Barragan

I know Ray Estrella.

Ray is also a Special Forces combat veteran. He was increasing membership by working on bringing in military veterans and professionals alike. This is the right kind of membership that any organization would want, because veterans are focused on service to community and transparency.

I am especially thankful to Ray Estrella and the other Elks Lodge leaders who are military veterans (Jim Torres; Joe De La Luz; Gil Flores; Tony Abarca - one of five brothers who served in our military) and who were instrumental in the Elks Lodge hosting successful veteran focused events at the Santa Ana Elks Lodge, similar to the veteran focused events at the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove, in which I have participated and enjoyed for years as the commander of and with the participation of an Orange County based veterans organization.

As the past Chief Audit Executive in four multinational companies, I helped implement processes world-wide that resulted in a greater ethical, and transparent organizational culture. In my professional judgment, although resisted initially unless propelled by a crisis, full disclosure and transparency is best for any organization.

It is my sincere hope that full transparency and accountability is achieved, or the lingering perception of lack of accountability and transparency is addressed so that the Elks can continue without distraction in its great and noble mission of Sharing and Caring!

Francisco Paco Barraganhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/fra...

Francisco J. Barragan
Francisco J. Barragan

I know Ray Estrella.

Ray is also a Special Forces combat veteran. He was increasing membership by working on bringing in military veterans and professionals alike. This is the right kind of membership that any organization would want, because veterans are focused on service to community and transparency.

I am especially thankful to Ray Estrella and the other Elks Lodge leaders who are military veterans (Jim Torres; Joe De La Luz; Gil Flores; Tony Abarca - one of five brothers who served in our military) and who were instrumental in the Elks Lodge hosting successful veteran focused events at the Santa Ana Elks Lodge, similar to the veteran focused events at the Elks Lodge in Garden Grove, in which I have participated and enjoyed for years as the commander of and with the participation of an Orange County based veterans organization.

As the past Chief Audit Executive in four multinational companies, I helped implement processes world-wide that resulted in a greater ethical, and transparent organizational culture. In my professional judgment, although resisted initially unless propelled by a crisis, full disclosure and transparency is best for any organization.

It is my sincere hope that full transparency and accountability is achieved, or the lingering perception of lack of accountability and transparency is addressed so that the Elks can continue without distraction in its great and noble mission of Sharing and Caring!

Francisco Paco Barraganhttp://www.linkedin.com/in/fra...

Cecilia Tompoles
Cecilia Tompoles

Regarding the "Ray Estrella Fought the Santa Ana Elks Lodge and the Lodge Won" article on May 3, 2012 by Josh Dulaney. A true example of a smear campaign, most of your "facts" are hearsay and one-sided. The reason there wasn't any responses from the Elks named in the article is that they were advised not to by the attorney for the Lodge. I grew up with Dan Fernandez and through all the years I've known him never once has he been inappropriate or lewd with me. This article is one man's "sour grapes". The Lodge held open elections attended by both Whites and Latinos, how come the vote was unanimous to oust these members? The TRUTH will come out. Cecilia Tompoles

SugeAveryLemonade
SugeAveryLemonade

I play bingo there with my mother! We know Ray! Wow! I can't wait for her to read this story!

Elkswife
Elkswife

interesting and probably true. As the wife of an elk....i see it all, and ALL of the allegations seem like the "REGULAR" at any lodge. but if you are a latino coming into an all white gentlemans club and pushing all your latino crap in thier faces, they will freak - they are all old school but they did accept you....so they are not totally being racist. I don't know - maybe Estrella should leave it alone and Fernandez should get a divorce, leave the lodge and harass women at an American Legion?

AnotherProudElk
AnotherProudElk

One of the best decisions I have ever made was to become an Elk. I am a fairly new member (6 years) and the BPOE is a phenomenal organization. I have seen more good works done by this order than any other charitable organization I have ever been involved in. We care very much for our Veterans, the disabled children and our communities.

Readers, look to the archives and read about the good that each of our lodges do for our communities. Read about the millions of dollars we donate every year to the Veterans and to needy children that can’t afford care. Read about the food that is donated to abused women, children, and families of active military.

One bad story about a man who didn’t get his way should not outweigh all of the good that each Lodge provides. Let the good works we do rise above one man’s 15 minutes of fame.

Lookoutr27
Lookoutr27

I agree with both comments. I attend many functions there and will honestly say that this is not a predominately white club. I am offended that the reporter had to point out that certain people are white. He observed a woman at bingo-white- with brown hair", what the heck does that have to do with anything? Tell me again who is racist? I have never witnessed anything short of very friendly members of different races having a good time. This reporter seems to have listened to one man who portrays himself as a perfect member and leader who has done everything right but an entire lodge turned against him for being honest, caring, trusty and the only one who cares, mostly because he is Latino? What a victim! Anyone who portrays himself as this is surely dirtier than this reporter is willing to look into. The reporter also makes sure he names each person Ray Estrella accuses and that they would not give interview but mentions that he met at Denny's with Estrella and 5 other lodge members but doesn't name or provide interview with each. Appears to be a very lopsided article about a man who will not leave gracefully and will continue to attempt to destroy those HE is prejudiced towards, written by a person that was either paid or is a friend or relative. The only thing I got out of this read is this exiled elk is all about himself and us a very vindictive person who has put a very bad light on a delightful lodge because they did not follow his agenda.

Proud Elk/American
Proud Elk/American

As a third generation Elk, and a young man in comparison (40) in the Order... I can't think of anything in my lifetime that so quickly turned an honorable and most charitable organization into a local mockery. I know all of these gentlemen, but more importantly, I know the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to local charities, families in need, service men and women around the world and veterans throughout the entire country. We provide vision screening and enormous amounts of aid to crippled children and those families suffering form terminal illness. With tenants like Brotherly Love, Justice, Charity and Fidelity, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks extends a great deal of effort in preserving the values that our country was founded on, helping those who protect our beloved homeland and caring for those in need. Its too bad, that not only are there members who forget those charters (even former 'leaders') but that local media would so rapidly run to write harmful language about something which they have no vested interest in nor any respect for.... for what... the sake of getting his name in the local paper... Well done... I hope that you and the paper you write for can make up the 'gap' you will undoubtedly exacerbate by pouring gas on to what would otherwise be a very small flame.

Jmcguinness
Jmcguinness

As a 45 year old white member (9 years) of the Santa Ana Elks Lodge, I am very surprised that the O C Weekly devoted so much time and energy to this article which seems to be of limited interest to readers outside of lodge circles. As to the racist issues, I have never seen or heard anything of the sort while at the lodge. I also live in Santa Ana (south of 17th) and work here.

Tom Wilkie
Tom Wilkie

When Ray Estrella became Exalted Ruler of the Santa Ana Elks in 2010 there were 1300 members, not 4,000, as he stated in this article. Since he left, the Lodge still has latino officers and members, but not the harrassment that Ray put out when he was there and tried to take over much of the management without authority to do so. If this reporter would like to se, for himself, that there really is no discrimination present, just let me know and I'd be pleased to take him through the Lodge and introduce him to many members for their on site responses to this article. Tom Wilkie, Past Exalted Ruler, 1992.. My e-mail address is "ibi-ubu@prodigy.net"

Moving ON!...Next
Moving ON!...Next

The elks is a great organization and the people too. you do not half to be a member to play BINGO...and there is two sides to every story, you are right in many ways! come by and check us out

Josh Dulaney
Josh Dulaney

Already been there, boys. My cracker grandparents were members of the Garden Grove Elks for years. (That's where I got my start in Bingo. Took $250 home on a couple nights.) And I spent many a Sunday afternoon eating lunch with with Old Granddad at the SA lodge. The Elks were at his funeral and did a fantastic job. I always heard good things about the place. Well, except for one joke by a non-Elk family member who mocked the Elks as a place where BPOE stands for Black People Only Entertain.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

If you actually read the whole story instead of what you wanted, you'll have seen that Josh asked nearly everyone named for comment—and they refused.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

"Limited interest"? That's why you're a commenter, and we work at a paper—we know what the OC public likes, and sordid tales are one of their favorite genres!

peaceloveunderstanding
peaceloveunderstanding

As a non Elk member, I agree with your statement, who would really care outside of Ek circles? it seems the allegations are little more than hear say.... and the writer needs a stronger argument / angle...

"A steady stream of Latinos, none of them members, walks or drives by the lodge."

"Mexican families sit next to old white couples at the long folding tables that line the sage-painted hall"

well what is it? are all the families inside Mexican or are they from various Latin countries...?

Expositor
Expositor

Immortalized in song almost 100 years ago by entertainer Nat Willis, BPOE stands for "Best People on Earth"... this based on their collective charitable works and community service.

I believe that it should be noted that each Elks lodge is its own entity; each unique and shaped by the community it is in and serves. Old school? Undoubtedly. In that Elks unilaterally hold to the traditions the order was founded on. Traditions based on loyalty, justice, charity, patriotism, family and love. Traditions... not so readily apparent or easily found in our modern society.

I also believe that is should be noted that the Elks are evolving. Without sacrificing the fundamentals of their traditions, they are adapting to the needs of their respective communities and our modern society. To paint the Elks as an " all white gentlemans club" or dominated by the 'Old Guard' is erroneous.

In fact, what you might want to refer to as "the New Guard" is taking the reigns in most lodges. Which only makes sense as the next generation Old Guard has to start somewhere. The lodges are becoming progressively more racially, gender and age diverse. Women commonly serve as officers and Exalted Rulers at many lodges. And the ranks are swelling with new members primarily in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Thomas
Thomas

I think that one of the reasons that you did not get responses by any of those accused or associated is that when you become an Elk, one of the rules of "Elkdom" is that you you don't air your dirty laundry, i.e. you use the in-house process to settle all disputes, major and minor. Then, if not satisfied, you can take your dispute to the regional board, and then the state board, and then the national board. This process has worked very well for over 100 years. I've found, over the years, that when a person starts throwing out the race card, it's usually because that person himself is a racist. I like the work of the author, but it appears that this time he got had by the interviewee.

Koolarrow
Koolarrow

They refused to comment because within all good organizations, there are still "good ole boy" cliques and everyone knows it.

Jmcguinness
Jmcguinness

Gustavo, if you like I can take you to the Santa Ana lodge and you can see for yourself the fallacies set forth in this article.

Moved On
Moved On

This article is pretty funny. I'm not an Elk member anymore cause of all the drama of who's cheating on who and so on...I don't know much about this incident but it wouldn't surprise me if it was true. Pretty sad but I think the Elks lodge is a dying breed (literally and figuratively) they need to tear that place down and build a mini mall or something ( that was a joke)

Good'Ol Boy!
Good'Ol Boy!

Gastvo and/or Josh Come on down and check us out...-FYI- Dont mess with me when i have not been drinking. LOL

Jmcguinness
Jmcguinness

The invite is open to both of you, and I'll stand by my limited interest comment as all the comments appear to be made by Elks and your responses.

 
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