A co-founder of the Eastside Portland Air Coalition is breaking her silence to warn people against giving money to nationally recognized lead safety advocate Tamara Rubin.
Jennifer Jones of Southeast Portland says Rubin offered to let the new group use her nonprofit, Lead Safe America Foundation, as the fiscal sponsor of the air coalition in early 2016. The group is still owed $6,939.77 of money it raised from 45 mostly local donors, Jones says, and they don't expect to see that money back.
"Now, I think all anybody cares about is making sure that people are cautious when dealing with Tamara," Jones says.
Rubin faces seven felony counts in connection to alleged financial mismanagement of the Lead Safe America Foundation. On social media, Rubin insists she is innocent and asks for donations to her legal defense fund. More than $10,000 has been raised by nearly 300 people in the past nine months on her GoFundMe page.
She also faces two charges connected with unlawfully obtaining and using public assistance (food stamps). She is due back in Multnomah County Circuit Court Jan. 16.
Rubin did not respond to a phone call or Facebook message Thursday, Dec. 7, seeking comment on her case. An email to her husband, Leonard Rubin, also went unanswered.
Jones says Eastside Portland Air Coalition members were reluctant to talk about the financial fiasco because they are worried the community will blame them.
"It was kind of embarrassing that this happened," Jones says.
But, she adds that the six core members of the group vowed to continue to do advocacy work in Portland as promised — now it is unpaid and expenses are not reimbursed. "There's no mistaking that when she was no longer in charge of the organization, there were no funds to pay us back."
Jones says the loss of the money meant that group members couldn't afford to travel to rural areas to organize bipartisan support for environmental safety in the 2017 legislative session.
"We really honestly feel that if we had the funds … to be able to get into those communities and bring supporters of reform" to Salem that laws could have been changed to improve air quality statewide, Jones says. "That was really disappointing to us that we couldn't light that fire."
In the wake of February 2016 news reports of toxins in the air allegedly from Bullseye Glass, a group of about 15 Portland residents moved quickly to organize for clean air. The group arranged for famed environmental advocate Erin Brockovich to speak April 2 and collected donations for the event costs and to further advocacy work.
"We had been around so short, we hadn't had an opportunity to discuss having articles of incorporation" and other aspects of a formal nonprofit, Jones says. "Tamara offered to be the fiscal sponsor for our organization as it was brand new."
At first, the group would collect money and give it to Rubin to deposit into OnPoint Community Credit Union. That summer, the Oregon Department of Justice began investigating Rubin and questions around the nonprofit's finances eventually led to her ouster. The Lead Safe America Foundation has since filed for dissolution and sold its assets.
Jones says Rubin repeatedly assured her that air coalition money would not be affected. But after the books were taken over by interim Executive Director Richard Seymour, Jones got to see the transactions. She found that long before the legal troubles began — in May 2016 when Rubin gave her an accounting of what money was left for her group — Eastside Portland Air Coalition's $6,939.77 balance was in savings.
On May 16, 2016, however, $6,939.79 was transferred to checking, leaving just the minimum $5 in the credit union savings account, according to bank statements provided to the Tribune. On May 17, Leonard Rubin cashed a check dated May 13 for $3,400 for "film music contract pmt." That check would have bounced without the coalition money because the checking account had only $2,200.39 before the transfer.
Jones says she still can't decide if the Rubins acted with intent.
"I don't know how to feel about her. I don't know if she's Bernie Madoff or if she's got her heart in the right place but made some really bad financial choices," Jones says.
She adds that the group is considering its legal options to recover the funds.