The Minuteman Project shot into the national spotlight shortly after it was formed two years ago, but now a bitter dispute over its leadership threatens to tear the anti-illegal immigration group apart.
Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court last week after the group’s board of directors fired him and his executive director over allegations of mismanagement and fraud. Gilchrist alleges in the lawsuit that the firings were illegal and that board members also illegally spent Minuteman money, seized its Web site and stole 20,000 pieces of letterhead.
For their part, the board members accuse Gilchrist of embezzling $400,000 in Minuteman Project donations and using $13,000 of the organization’s money for his own legal fees. They recently filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that Gilchrist illegally received a nonprofit postal discount.
On Tuesday, a judge set a March 21 hearing to decide whether to intervene in the dispute, which had been building for more than a year, according to court papers.
The Minuteman Project gained widespread media attention in 2005 when its members patrolled the Mexico-Arizona border using cars, trucks, private planes and night-vision goggles. The effort drew criticism from President Bush, who called participants “vigilantes.”
The organization now has about 200 spin-off groups around the United States.