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Former Holyoke Community Leader Under Investigation For 'Questionable Transactions'

The community organization Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke, Massachusetts, says police are investigating charges against its former executive director, Nelson Roman — who has since moved to Chicago. 

Reading from a statement, Nueva Esperanza board member Juan Gabriel Sanchez-Sanchez said board president Rosa Pantoja found "some questionable transactions" when going through the organization's finances. 

After Pantoja questioned Roman about the transactions, according to the statement, "The answers received from Mr. Roman were not satisfactory to the board of directors. We immediately exercised our due diligence by contacting the Holyoke Police Department, who began a formal investigation."

Holyoke police did not return calls confirming the investigation, but MassLive quoted Lt. Jim Albert as saying the department began looking into allegations against Roman in early December.

Roman, who was also a Holyoke city councilor, started working at Nueva Esperanza as interim executive director in June 2017, and was hired for the permanent position in June 2018. 

Roman announced he was leaving Holyoke in a letter to the City Council in November, saying he was pursuing “a new opportunity with a company that focuses on homeless and LGBT housing services on a national level.”

Although Roman did not mention publicly which organization in Chicago had hired him, NEPR learned he is now working at El Rescate, a transitional living program operated out of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago.

When contacted recently by phone, Roman said he kept his new workplace private because he wanted “a fresh start.” Roman has not responded for further comment since the Holyoke investigation became public.

When Roman left Nueva Esperanza, he also vacated his City Council seat before his term was up.

"I do think it was surprising how quickly he left," said Councilor-at-Large Rebecca Lisi. "I think that he was very vague about where he was going, but it seemed to satisfy everybody.”

"It didn't seem like anybody [on the council] knew where specifically he went. And that was a little odd," said City Councilor Linda Vacon.

Another city councilor, Jossie Valentin, said that she has not been in touch with Roman since his departure, but she “trust[s] that the Holyoke Police Department will continue to do their due diligence on the investigation and keep us posted as members of the public.”

“Nelson has been more than a colleague on the council,” Valentin said, “so it's sad to read this news.” 

Valentin said she and Roman were fellow activists, Puerto Ricans and members of the LGBT community. She said she joined Roman on a trip in 2016 to visit the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago — where Roman has since been hired.

“I wasn't surprised that he was going to take the job, because I knew he loved the city,” Valentin said. “But the timeline of it surprised me, because I thought we were going to at least have him until he finished his term.”

Sanchez-Sanchez said Nueva Esperanza did not wish to comment further, other than to make one point: “I want to clarify that it's unfortunately our former [executive director] Mr. Roman under investigation and not the agency.”

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