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Gay-owned firm joins D.C. small business bond program

Allows customers to buy $10 bonds to invest in small local companies

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‘Instead of going to a bank, we go to small investors in the community,’ said Manny Cosme, president and CEO of CFO Services Group. (Photo courtesy of Cosme)

CFO Services Group, a gay-owned D.C. financial services consulting company, is one of six D.C. small businesses to participate in a program launched in September by Mayor Muriel Bowser that allows small businesses to raise money by offering bonds at a price of $10 each to local community investors.

The D.C. Rebuild Bond Program, which is operating in partnership with the investment marketplace company SMBX, “will enable local businesses to build, expand, and innovate,” according to a statement released by the mayor’s office.

“Local businesses represent the dreams of D.C. residents and are the backbone of our city’s economy,” Bowser said in the statement. “This tool is one more way we can work together to create jobs and opportunities in all eight wards, support our favorite small and local businesses, and uplift entrepreneurs who are invested in our people, culture, and neighborhoods,” the mayor said.

The program, which will operate under the auspices of the Office of the D.C. Deputy Mayor for Business and Economic Development, is also aimed at helping small businesses struggling from the impact of the COVID pandemic, city officials said.

Manny Cosme, president and CEO of the downtown D.C.-based CFO Services Group, also serves as treasurer for D.C.’s Equality Chamber of Commerce, an LGBTQ business advocacy group. Cosme said he and his company are pleased to be among the first six local D.C. businesses to participate in the Rebuild Bond Program to raise capital for his company.

“Instead of going to a bank, we go to small investors in the community,” said Cosme, who noted that some of the investors in the companies participating in the program are loyal customers.

Annie Eser, an SMBX official who serves as the D.C. Rebuild Bond Program Director, told the Washington Blade that SMBX sets up the bond offerings for the businesses participating in the program. She said the company also helps recruit community investors and arranges for them to buy the bonds and receive a monthly interest payment from the business on their bond investment that could be between 4 percent and 7 percent depending on the details of the bond offering.

Brandon Skall, CEO and co-founder of DC Brau Brewing, a popular brewery in Northeast D.C. near the Maryland line, said he’s pleased to have used the services of SMBX to facilitate the sale of his company’s bonds to refinance an existing loan.

“The idea of taking this interest that we would be paying to a bank or to an institution and paying it back to people who actually support our business and other small local businesses was really, really exciting for us,” Skall told the Blade.

He said several of those who bought DC Brau bonds are regular customers at the brewery’s tap room.
“And through the pandemic, we were really kept in business by people who went out of their way to support us and other businesses they cared about,” he said. “But this is a great way that they can invest in an easy format and even have more ownership of the businesses they love.”

The statement from the mayor’s office announcing the D.C. Rebuild Bond Program says it will focus on historically disadvantaged businesses in Wards 5, 7, and 8, but would be open to businesses throughout the city.

“As part of the program, D.C. businesses listed on the SMBX marketplace will benefit from no private lending fees, zero origination fees, and no personal guarantees to secure their loans,” the statement from the mayor’s office says. “They will also receive direct support from the SMBX marketing team to help them reach their goals,” the statement says.

In addition to CFO Services Group, which is located at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., and DC Brau Brewing at 3178 Bladensburg Rd., N.E., the other local businesses participating in the D.C. bond program as of this week include El Tamarindo restaurant at 1785 Florida Ave., N.W.; Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats at 1730 Park Rd., N.W.; Maketto restaurant and retail store at 1351 H St., N.E.; and Chaia Tacos at 615 I St., N.W.

More information about the program for potential investors and small businesses can be obtained through thesmbx.com.

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District of Columbia

LGBTQ contingent to join National Vigil for gun violence victims in D.C.

Gays Against Guns plans Capitol Hill procession to honor those lost

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Gays Against Guns planned a march for Dec. 7. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As many as several dozen LGBTQ activists wearing white robes and carrying photos of victims of gun violence were planning a procession along city streets from the As You Are LGBTQ bar on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 7, to the nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

The church, located at 301 A St., S.E., was scheduled to host the 10th annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

The New York City-based group Gays Against Guns, which is organizing the LGBTQ contingent, released a statement saying its members would be meeting at As You Are at 500 8th St., S.E. with LGBTQ “political, community based, nightlife, and gun violence prevention allies” to finalize plans for the procession a few hours before the start of the vigil.

Jay Walker, one of the Gays Against Guns leaders, told the Washington Blade the group and its supporters have scheduled a press conference at As You Are on Wednesday at 3 p.m. to draw attention, among other things, to threats and anti-LGBTQ protests against drag shows over the past two weeks in cities across the country.

Walker pointed to news reports of hostile protesters, some armed with guns, assembling outside bars or clubs holding drag shows in Columbus, Ohio; Lakeland and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Aurora, Ill.; and Manhattan, Staten Island, and Oceanside, N.Y. within the past two weeks.

Most of these reported attempts to intimidate people patronizing or participating in drag performances took place after the Nov. 19 shooting at the Club Q gay bar in Colorado Springs, Colo., in which a gunman shot and killed five people and injured at least 17 more.

That shooting took place shortly before a drag show was scheduled to take place at the Club Q.

The National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, was to take place shortly after speculation has surfaced that opposition to a drag show was the motive that prompted one or more as yet unidentified suspects to fire multiple gunshots at electrical power substations in Moore County, N.C., causing a blackout affecting 45,000 residents.  

Law enforcement officials investigating what they have said was a targeted attack aimed at knocking out the electric power substations also said they have no evidence yet as to what the motive was for the crime.

But in its statement released this week, Gays Against Guns said the attack on the power substations took place shortly after a drag event was held in the town of Southern Pines in Moore County that drew opposition and protests from far-right activists and anti-LGBTQ community members.

“Enough is enough!” the Gays Against Guns statement says. “Our communities must take a stand and issue demands of our elected leaders, law enforcement, and the greater polity to take action on this threat to all Americans.”

The latest incidents targeting drag shows have taken place after D.C. police announced shortly after the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs that they were stepping up police patrols around D.C. LGBTQ establishments, including gay bars.  

“At this time, there are no known threats to any events or locations in the District,” a Nov. 23 police statement says. “MPD will continue to monitor the developments in Colorado Springs and share information with our local, regional and federal law enforcement partners,” the statement says.

But a short time later, on Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a terrorism threat bulletin warning that domestic extremists have posted online praise for the Club Q shooting suspect and have called for copycat attacks.

“Targets of potential violence include public gatherings, faith-based institutions, the LGBTQI+ community, schools, racial and religious minorities, government facilities and personnel, U.S. critical infrastructure, the media, and perceived ideological opponents,” the bulletin states.

“Some domestic violent extremists who have conducted attacks have cited previous attacks and attackers as inspiration,” the DHS bulletin continues. “Following the late November shooting at an LGBTQI+ bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado — which remains under investigation — we have observed actors on forums known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content praising the alleged attacker,” the bulletin says.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a group representing bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment establishments, said the community nightlife businesses welcome the increased police patrols of these establishments.

“The local nightlife association has offered periodic security and active shooter training sessions for venue operators, managers, and staff for a number of years, most recently on Nov. 1 in conjunction with the restaurant association,” Lee said. “These specialized trainings feature presentations by both a nationally recognized training firm and DCNC affiliate member nightlife security consultants and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department,” Lee told the Blade.

“Nightlife hospitality establishments understand the importance of being constantly vigilant about, and prepared for, any and all incidents that could occur whenever people are gathered,” he said.

Walker of Gays Against Guns said participants in the planned LGBTQ procession from As You Are bar to St. Mark’s Church would be carrying photos or signs commemorating the LGBTQ victims of gun violence, including victims of the Pulse LGBTQ nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla. in June 2016 in which 49 mostly LGBTQ patrons of the club were shot to death by lone gunman.

The Wednesday night vigil at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, among other things, will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting incident in which 26 people were shot to death, 20 of whom were children, according to a statement released by organizers.

“By this December, over one million Americans will be killed or injured by guns since the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy,” the statement says. “We urge you to join the gun violence prevention community in our collective effort to continue to shine a light on the devastating epidemic of gun violence in our nation until these gun deaths and injuries are reduced.”

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Ruby Corado describes D.C. civil case as ‘persecution’

Casa Ruby founder claims board approved transfer of $400,000 in funds

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Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado in El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

(Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers translated this interview from Spanish into English.)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado told the Washington Blade on Friday during an interview in the Salvadoran capital the allegations that D.C. officials have made against her amount to “persecution.”

“This is persecution,” Corado said during an interview at a San Salvador coffee shop. “At the end of the day I am interested in people knowing all these things, because I am a human rights activist and what is happening to Ruby Corado should be an alarm for any human rights defender.”

The D.C. Department of Human Services on Sept. 24, 2021, informed Casa Ruby it was not going to renew its annual $850,000 grant that, among other things, funded Casa Ruby’s emergency “low-barrier” shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth and adults. Corado during the interview with her in El Salvador said Casa Ruby remained open and was not in debt, even though she said the D.C. government did not pay the organization for six months.

“The staff was always paid, because the organization’s principal mission is giving work to all of those people that nobody wants to employ,” she said. “The government as of today owes us around a million dollars for services we provided and we have never been reimbursed, no newspaper has said this.” 

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General in a civil complaint it filed in D.C. Superior Court on July 29, 2022, alleged Corado violated the city’s Nonprofit Corporations Act in connection with its financial dealings. D.C. Superior Court Judge Danya Dayson later placed Casa Ruby under receivership. 

She named the Wanda Alston Foundation, a D.C.-based organization that provides housing services for homeless LGBTQ youth, as the city’s receiver. The Wanda Alston Foundation in a preliminary report it filed on Sept. 13 said Casa Ruby “should be dissolved.” 

An amended civil complaint the Office of the D.C. Attorney General filed in D.C. Superior Court on Nov. 28 alleges Corado withdrew more than $400,000 of Casa Ruby funds for unauthorized use in El Salvador. 

The amended complaint, among other things, includes three new defendants to what legal observers say is the equivalent of a D.C. government lawsuit against Corado and Casa Ruby. The new defendants are limited liability companies that Corado created and controls. They include a new version of Casa Ruby called Casa Ruby LLC, doing business as Moxie Health; Pneuma Behavioral Health LLC; and Tigloballogistics LLC, doing business as Casa Ruby Pharmacy.

The amended complaint notes Corado claimed the new companies — and especially the pharmacy — were part of Casa Ruby’s mission, but she never received the Casa Ruby board of directors’ approval to create them. The attorney general’s office has said the board rarely met and failed to provide any oversight of Corado’s actions.

According to the amended complaint, Corado transferred large sums of money from Casa Ruby to these companies. And at some point she transferred funds from the new companies to her own personal bank account.

Both the original complaint and the amended complaint allege Corado transferred as much as $500,000 of Casa Ruby’s funds to create what she said was a new Casa Ruby in El Salvador that the board approved. But the earlier and amended complaints allege the board never authorized the El Salvador operation.

The amended complaint says Corado between April 2021 and September 2022 transferred more than $400,000 from two Casa Ruby related accounts “to accounts she held under her birth name in two El Salvador banks.” It says the Casa Ruby board “never authorized any of these transfers.”

Corado told the Blade she feels targeted because she always tells the truth. Corado added people are distracted from the truth because of a system that benefits from “lies and defamation.”

“People know my work and have seen me working and because of this there are many people who continue to support me,” she said.

The Blade in March 2021 interviewed Corado about the opening of Casa Ruby in El Salvador.

“Our work at Casa Ruby is to avoid suffering and [to offer] support through alliances, that is why we aim to share the programs for migrants that work in Washington because we have seen that they work,” she said during an interview from Casa Ruby’s new office in San Salvador, on March 18, 2021. “We will do a little more work here in El Salvador so that the LGBTQ community has greater access to these opportunities.”

Corado said part of this work included the purchase of a restaurant and nightclub in order to create jobs for LGBTQ people. Corado also opened a shelter “with limited resources, not like what had been done in Washington” and offered makeup classes and other workshops that allowed clients to learn skills to support themselves. 

Casa Ruby founder Ruby Corado stands outside Casa Ruby’s new office in San Salvador, El Salvador, in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of Ruby Corado)

Corado said she began these projects with money she obtained through the sale of her home in D.C. and through her own salary. Corado categorically denied allegations that she withdrew more than $400,000 from Casa Ruby’s bank accounts without the board’s approval.

“I have everything documented in writing, where [the board] approved my salary and also where the $400,000 was approved,” said Corado. 

Corado said the board always knew about the El Salvador project, which she said was part of her strategy for Casa Ruby to expand its work outside the U.S. to countries that include Guatemala and Nicaragua. Corado also denied the allegation the majority of Casa Ruby employees were paid less than $15 an hour, which is less than the D.C. minimum wage as of July 1, 2021.

The minimum wage on that date rose to $15.20 an hour.

“Does the prosecutor want to spend resources investigating Ruby Corado and throwing away her work — as they have wanted to do for the last eight years — instead of feeding the needy,” said Corado. “Let them do it.”

“The project that I presented was a priority that President Biden had, which was giving money to NGOs to ensure that people don’t continue to migrate,” added Corado. “I didn’t invent anything that wasn’t already on the agenda.”

Corado noted she was among the LGBTQ and intersex activists who met with Biden in 2021.

“I went and I talked about what the barriers were,” she said. “One of them is local government relationships with the community.”

Corado said she has “more information that she cannot reveal,” but stressed she will do it through the court system. Corado told the Blade she was afraid to speak up because she did not want to jeopardize Casa Ruby’s funding.

The next court hearing in the Casa Ruby civil case is scheduled to take place on Jan. 6, and Corado is expected to attend.

‘I never kissed anyone’s ass’

Corado was born in El Salvador.

She said one of the reasons she decided to open Casa Ruby in the country was because she needed to “heal inside” and “take care of myself” from the trauma she said she suffered during the country’s civil war, from her life on the streets of D.C. and from the loss of several people close to Casa Ruby.

She said she had issued reports about hate crimes in D.C. and the Office of the Attorney General did not work with her. Corado said she once told D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine during a meeting that she did not think he was doing enough to help the city’s LGBTQ community.

“I was on this man’s black list from that moment on,” Corado said.

Corado once again described Racine’s allegations and the tweets he made against her as baseless, and she has made her opinion to the judge known.

“I never kissed anyone’s ass. I don’t expect these people now, after 30 years, to come and approve my work,” Corado emphasized.

The office of D.C. Attorney General Racine released a statement to the Blade in response to questions about Corado’s accusations. “We opened an investigation after public reporting in the Washington Post on July 17th suggested Casa Ruby had engaged in serious violations of the District’s nonprofit laws, which our office is responsible for enforcing,” the statement read. “Our complaint, and the remarkable amount of evidence we’ve uncovered in just a short time, speaks for itself.”

Corado also said she continues to receive death threats, and her car was vandalized when she was last in D.C.

“I was staying with a friend and someone came to the apartment wanting to hurt or kill me,” she said. “I don’t know.”

Lou Chibbaro, Jr. contributed to this story.

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Loudoun County shopping center hit with homophobic, racist graffiti

Sheriff’s Office seeks help from public to identify suspects

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Graffiti at a Loudoun County shopping center is being investigated as a hate crime.

The Loudoun County, Va., Sheriff’s Office is seeking help from the public for its investigation into an incident on Friday, Dec. 2, in which an unidentified suspect or suspects spray-painted anti-LGBTQ, racist, and anti-Semitic graffiti at a shopping center.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s office told the Washington Blade the graffiti, which is considered an act of vandalism and is being investigated as a possible hate crime, was found painted on the side of a building that once housed a Food Lion supermarket at the South Riding Town Center in Chantilly.

The Sheriff’s Office did not disclose the exact wording of the graffiti. But news media reports, including a report by WTOP News, said the graffiti included Nazi swastikas, racial slurs, and the phrase “stop white genocide.”

Among the graffiti messages was the symbol “1488,” which indicates “the perpetrator’s endorsement of white supremacy and its beliefs,” according to a statement from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington as reported by the local publication Inside NOVA.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Michele Bowman said another, similar display of hate graffiti was found on Saturday behind the Bed Bath & Beyond building at the nearby Dulles Landing shopping center. Bowman said the Sheriff’s Office is also investigating that incident.

“There is no place in society for this behavior,” a statement released by the Sheriff’s Office on Facebook says.

“The LCSO takes this very seriously and is working with our station detectives, School Resource Officers, and our FBI Task Force member, and is reviewing social media and other potential leads to determine who is responsible for this vile act,” the statement says.

“We are asking the public for their assistance as well,” it says. “If anyone has information that may be helpful, please call Detective Fornwalt at 703-777-1021,” the statement says.

Loudoun4All, which describes itself as an advocacy organization that supports equality, announced on Facebook that it organized a rally on Sunday, Dec. 4, at the site of the graffiti at South Riding Town Center to speak out against hate.

The announcement says the group also arranged for volunteers to help remove the graffiti after learning that the Sheriff’s Office does not have authority to remove such graffiti on private property.

“About 50 local residents joined the rally, which took place along the side of Tall Cedars Parkway where the graffiti had been painted,” the group said in its Facebook posting. “Rally goers held signs with inclusive and supportive messages and waved at cars driving by,” the posting says.

It says that local resident Quante Timbers, the owner of Timbers Landscaping Care, LLC, volunteered his services by bringing a power washer to the site to remove most of the graffiti.

“Where his hoses wouldn’t reach, local kids converted the spray-painted message of hate into chalked messages of love,” the Loudoun4All statement says.

Loudoun Sheriff’s spokesperson Bowman said there were no updates to report on the investigation as of Monday, Dec. 5.

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