The Jacksonville Young Democrats are embroiled in an internal conflict over the group's finances, specifically how JYD President Kristellys Estanga has spent its funds.
Estanga declined to be interviewed for this story. At her request, all questions were sent to JYD Communications Chair John Aloszka via Facebook messenger. Through Aloszka, Estanga denied any wrongdoing.
Late one evening last week, while on a trip to Dallas, Texas for the Young Democrats of America annual convention, Estanga sent an email to the JYD executive committee asking it to authorize expenditures for Lyft fare. Following what Aloszka characterized as a heated conversation, the committee approved it.
But the last minute request did not sit well with some and gave rise to further questions about how Estanga has been handling JYD's funds. For some time, there have been grumbles that Estanga has been soliciting, receiving and appropriating donations without informing other members of the group or depositing said funds into the JYD account.
"We don't know who she talks to, what donors she talks to... We don't know what's been going on with our money," said JYD Field Director Cecelia Zucconi, who is an appointed member of the executive committee.
Those questions came to a head at the JYD meeting on Wednesday, August 16.
"During the treasurer report, she mentioned that the president had made Lyft charges and there was some debate on whether or not that was appropriate, and we felt that an audit should be called," Zucconi said. "There are a lot of charges out of town for Lyft and things like that," she later added.
At the meeting, which Estanga did not attend, JYD voted unanimously to audit its finances.
Aloszka said that there was simply a "misinterpretation" among some regarding what the group's bylaws require for travel expenditures. "[Estanga] emailed the board to approve one Lyft request as a courtesy, as these kinds of requests only need the president, treasurer and vice president's approval, per our bylaws," Aloszka said.
He said the group had needed an audit for a while to track how it was using a $5,000 grant to get out the vote and characterized the decision to conduct one as equally driven by that necessity.
"There has been no wrongdoing by any of our board members, these processes just happen to coincide," he said.
But others question the timing of her request to authorize charges, noting that it occurred later in the evening (Aloszka said she emailed the executive committee at 9:35 p.m.) and that in this instance Estanga was traveling with a fellow member of the group, whereas she had traveled alone on at least two previous trips in recent months.
There are also some concerns about her soliciting funds to pay for trips in the first place, several saying that it has historically not been one of the ways the group utilizes funds. Zucconi said that part of its motivation for the audit is to determine if any of the $5,000 grant JYD received to get out of the vote has been improperly spent. If so, the group, which she said currently has approximately $4,000 in its account, could be obligated to return such funds.
Several people who asked not to be named for this story said that Estanga has accepted and spent cash donations intended for JYD, including for personal expenses, and without providing an accounting, a charge she flatly denies.
An individual familiar with Estanga's fundraising, who also asked not to be named, said they had personal knowledge of her soliciting and receiving donations totaling at least several thousand dollars that may not have been accounted for. "Indeterminate amounts of money have been coming in in cash ... and not always reaching the JYD bank account," they said.
The person said Estanga is "not afraid to ask" for money. "Shameless might be the right word," they said.
The individual noted that they had no reason to suspect Estanga of misdeeds, just mismanagement. "It looks more sloppy than anything," they said.
The contentiousness of the debate about Estanga's expenditures was so intense that prior to Wednesday's meeting she told some members that she intended to resign. Instead, she did not show up for the meeting, arriving afterwards to speak with the executive committee.
"[Estanga asked] the board if we wished to have her resign, and left our group chat for a period of time to let the discussion calm down a little bit. But she never formally sent in a resignation letter nor does she intend to resign," Aloszka said.
Through Aloszka, Estanga characterized the conflict as essentially a witch hunt by those seeking to seize control of JYD.
"She is aware of these allegations and they are completely untrue. Those who wish to believe this narrative are lying for their own personal political gain. These conversations are nothing but noise and distract us from the important work we do."