When #MeToo sexual harassment accusations surfaced against prominent Orange County Democrats last week, the party promised swift action. "We will not tolerate inappropriate behavior," Chairwoman Fran Sdao stated, "and, once informed, will take immediate action to investigate accusations and come to an appropriate resolution which may include criminal charges." But that's what the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) already did with Benny Diaz, a current member of the party's Central Committee, earlier this year.
Diaz, a longtime LULAC activist, resigned as an officer of the organization and closed its Garden Grove council in June after accusations of harassment from several OC women prompted an investigation. He had already been suspended for several months with actions pending from the national board of directors at the time. "This is not who we are as an organization and we will not tolerate this behavior," Dave Rodriguez, California LULAC State Director, said in a June press release. But the statement offered no details about the allegations beyond deeming them "misconduct" and Rodriguez couldn't offer any further comment beyond the press release when asked.
The Weekly has since learned that last November, California LULAC tasked Barboza & Associates, a Los Angeles-based firm, with investigating sexual harassment allegations from 2015 and 2016 against Diaz. An anonymous source provided a copy of the report's summary findings that concluded Diaz "directed inappropriately personal and suggestive and sexual commentary to at least three women who were interested in becoming involved in CA LULAC."
Five women were interviewed during the investigation. The firm writes that it invited Diaz, California LULAC's former state president, by email to participate, but he didn't respond. One unnamed woman noted that she began communicating with Diaz online around Jan. 2015, expressing an interest in volunteering with LULAC. Diaz allegedly used her interest as opportunity to explore a romantic relationship. "She alleged that he told her that: he was hot for her; he wanted to seduce her; he wanted to buy her a baby doll; and he was waiting for her at the mall," the summary report reads.
The allegedly unwanted communications continued by phone. The woman claims Diaz promised he could deliver her LULAC's "Woman of the Year" honors. When the woman rejected his repeated, unwanted advances, she says Diaz told her to delete his messages. She refused and shared them with investigators instead.
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In another incident, another unnamed woman spoke with investigators about Diaz's alleged inappropriate behavior. She told them that he and his friend told her they had a boat in Long Beach that could be used to "party" after the pair encouraged her to start "partying" more, even though she expressed no interest in doing so. She says she continued to decline Diaz's invitations, when the longtime Latino activist grew angry. "Let me tell you something," she recalls Diaz saying while pointing his finger close to her face. "Don't fuck with me!"
The women interviewed relayed fears of being slandered and facing "malicious retaliation" from Diaz. The investigative firm based its work on a standard of proof that showed a preponderance of evidence, which proved convincing enough for them. "The evidence described above confirms that Mr. Diaz failed to maintain appropriate boundaries between his personal life and his LULAC activities," the report concluded. "The connections made with the three women mentioned above were made because of Mr. Diaz's connection to LULAC."
Diaz's resignation amid the scandal hasn't had any bearing on his position in the OC Democratic Party. Sdao didn't respond to the Weekly's questions about Diaz being a Central Committee member for Assembly District 72, a point of contention for Fullerton party activist Barbara Nelson after the #MeToo promises of prompt action.
"I've been attending regularly but not the past few months because I've been ill," Diaz says of Central Committee meetings. He also adds he's read the investigative report, but has only one comment in response for now. "I have never been interviewed by the LULAC leadership."