By John Lauritsen

By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

— La Familia has been a part of the St. Paul community for the past 16 years. It provided mental health services to Latino families who couldn’t afford it otherwise. But without much of an explanation or much of a warning, its doors are now closed.

Why that happened is a mystery to co-founder Roberto Avina.

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“I retired in July, so I wasn’t aware of anything going wrong. So, I was really surprised,” said Avina.

When Avina left the center last summer, he left it in the hands of Jose Santos — La Familia’s other co-founder. He thought he was leaving it in good shape.

However, on Monday, La Familia was closed.

Avina believes they were still serving more than 700 families, along with providing counseling services to schools in Dakota, Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.

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Santos had had some legal problems recently. Court records show he has been charged with drunken driving three times in Minnesota. It’s not clear though, if that had anything to do with this.

One employee said Santos cited budget problems as the reason for the closing, which happened just five days after his announcement.

“I was very surprised,” said Avina. “I mean, I couldn’t fathom what would have caused that. ”

A person close to the situation said that employees have not received pay for three days that they worked, or for the vacation time they accrued. Those same employees have sent a demand letter to Santos and the organization’s board of directors, asking for their unpaid wages.

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Employees took pay-cuts last year, but believed their jobs were safe after La Familia hired two new employees a couple months ago.

John Lauritsen