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Charity Denies Knowing It Hired Con Man

A background check by Pasadena Red Cross showed the worker had aliases and a record of grand theft. Officials say they're not covering up.

October 07, 2005|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

A local chapter of the American Red Cross, already embarrassed by the hiring of a notorious con man as an executive fundraiser, is now fighting accusations that senior managers tried to cover up their knowledge of the man's background.

The Red Cross in August hired Fred Brito, who had a long criminal history and had just been fired from a fundraising job at UCLA when officials there discovered he used fake credentials, to manage fundraising for 30 cities in the San Gabriel Valley. He remained on the Red Cross staff for a month after the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page story on his exploits and was fired only after an official conducting an Internet search came across the piece.

Now the employee who discovered Brito's background has been suspended -- and expects to be fired -- because he responded to media inquiries about Brito.

Documents obtained by The Times show that the Red Cross hired InfoLink Screening Services Inc. to check Brito's background before he was hired, and the firm found that he used numerous aliases and had a conviction for grand theft.

San Gabriel Valley Red Cross Chief Executive Angie Turner acknowledged that the charity does background checks on prospective employees from InfoLink but declined a Times request for her to view a copy of the background check or say whether she had seen it before hiring Brito.

The background check was completed Aug. 5, five days before he was hired. On the second page a handwritten note states: "Not same person."

News that Brito worked for several months for the Red Cross, including doing work for Hurricane Katrina relief, broke two weeks ago. Since then, Turner suspended the employee who discovered Brito's background Sept. 16 while surfing the Internet. Turner declined to explain why she suspended Dereck Andrade without pay. But an Oct. 3 memo states that he was being punished primarily for leaking information about the Brito case.

"On September 16 and during the week of September 19, you were directed to keep in confidence all personnel issues surrounding [Brito], at the time our financial development officer," the memo from Turner to Andrade reads. "We have since learned that you disregarded my explicit instructions and that you did in fact make a call on the morning of September 21 to a member of a public affairs office not within the American Red Cross."

Turner said in an interview that she had decided not to publicly release information about Brito's hiring and firing, citing "personnel issues." But she and other officials had written up "talking points" in case the media found out.

Andrade said he did not leak the information but that he did talk to the media beginning Sept. 21 after it became apparent that the matter had become known. He said that from the beginning he disagreed with the idea of keeping the hiring and firing of Brito private.

"I thought, 'This is going to look like a cover-up,' " Andrade said.

The turmoil at the Red Cross is just the latest chapter in the saga of Brito, who for years used fake credentials to get top jobs and by his own admission stole from and deceived more people than he could count over the decades.

Turner on Thursday declined to speak in detail about the Red Cross' background check on Brito. She said she remembered that his resume "was outstanding" and that he was interviewed by her, Andrade, board Chairman Michael Zoeller and a financial development consultant.

"We all ranked him very high," Turner said. "I would say that we hired him based on the information that we had and that he was the strongest candidate we found."

She said that Brito passed a reference check. In retrospect, Turner said she thinks Brito probably had people take phone calls to back up his resume. Turner said a criminal conviction check at the time indicated no problems. But the background check shows a conviction for grand theft on July 5, 2002, and other commonly used databases also pick up criminal records for Brito as well as numerous aliases.

On the evening of Sept. 16, Andrade acted on a suspicion and did a Google search of Brito's name. The Times article popped up.

That night, Turner said, she faxed information to the Pasadena Police Department in an effort to link the Fred Brito mentioned in the article to the one hired for a job that pays more than $5,000 a month.

"They said you couldn't with the information we had tell whether any of the convictions were related to the person we hired," Turner said.

A Pasadena police official said there was little the department could do because the request was made to a watch commander after hours, on short notice.

"They faxed a picture and other documentation, so it was not the best quality," said Police Cmdr. Rick Law. "They were trying to see if in fact that person ... was in fact the person they hired.... The person they spoke to said, 'I cannot say for sure one way or the other.' "

Zoeller on Thursday said it was "certainly my understanding that due diligence was done" regarding the background check.

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