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California

Vocation Training Offices Searched

Probe: The action by the district attorney is part of an investigation of United Community Resources Agency.

October 12, 2001|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office Thursday served search warrants on a local job training agency that holds millions of dollars in city and county contracts.

The searches came as part of an ongoing investigation of Hollywood-based United Community Resources Agency, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. She declined to elaborate.

UCRA Executive Director Lita Gonzales could not be reached for comment, but board chairman David Woo expressed outrage over the search by investigators and demands that staff and clients vacate several offices.

Woo said the organization is audited regularly and opens its books for inspection at any time.

"If there's a problem, then we as board members will fix it. But we do not believe there's a problem," said Woo, who added that UCRA offices will reopen today.cq

A private, nonprofit group, UCRA has expanded rapidly in recent years to provide vocational training, job search assistance and other services to predominantly low-income refugees and recent immigrants at five offices and service centers countywide.

Woo and William Wong, president of UCRA's board of directors, said they did not know the focus of the investigations.

"These past few years, we have expanded really fast," Wong said. "I think we've done a really good job. I don't know what happened all of a sudden."

The nonprofit organization was born in 1974 as the United Chinese Restaurant Assn. Cooking School in an effort to upgrade the region's Chinese restaurant industry and provide jobs for immigrants, according to UCRA's Web site and Wong.

As welfare reform took hold and the federal Workforce Investment Act was launched to train the nation's unemployed, UCRA has grown on the strength of government funding.

Tax documents filed by the group for 1999 show that 94% of its revenue came from government contracts.

For the current fiscal year, UCRA holds $2.3 million in contracts with the Los AngelesCommunity Development Department. That funding is used to provide job placement and training services as part of the city's One-Stop system; for welfare-to-work placements; and for youth programs.

The organization also receives county welfare-to-work funding. And this year it received $1.4 million in funding from the county's Community and Senior Services Department for a Refugee and Immigrant Training and Employment program and a Refugee Employment Program. Those provide assistance to non-English and non-Spanish speakers, including Russians, Armenians, Koreans and Vietnamese.

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