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A person sits in an office with facing a TV screen showing a computer screen, with a logo by the door that says Warner Wellness Center
Warner Wellness Center’s office in Huntington Beach on Nov. 8, 2023. It’s a few doors down from Do’s private law office in the same building.
Nick Gerda
Under Pressure To Account For Millions From Taxpayers, OC Nonprofit Announced It Was Shutting Down
Orange County officials say they are scrambling to understand what’s happening at a county-funded nonprofit led by O.C. Supervisor Andrew Do’s 22 year-old daughter. The county says the group has failed to account for millions in taxpayer dollars.
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Orange County officials say they are scrambling to understand what’s happening at a county-funded nonprofit led by O.C. Supervisor Andrew Do’s 22 year-old daughter, which the county says has failed to account for millions in taxpayer dollars.

The group suddenly announced last week it would be closing immediately and laying off its employees — including those who staff the county’s Vietnamese mental health support hotline, according to the O.C. chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which manages the group’s $1.25 million per year subcontract for the hotline work.

Do’s daughter’s group then reversed course, saying its employees would return to work, according to NAMI CEO Amy Durham.

NAMI took action and suspended the nonprofit from its county-funded hotline work late Tuesday because it failed to turn in overdue administrative documents, Durham said in an email.

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The backstory

The nonprofit, which has used both the name Viet America Society and Warner Wellness Center, was warned by the county last month that it may have to repay millions of taxpayer dollars that it has failed to account for. The specific money in question, some $4 million, was paid by the county to help feed needy residents using federal coronavirus relief funds.

After waiting nearly a year for proof that the meals had been delivered, county officials gave the group a mid-March deadline. County staff threatened to force repayment if Viet America Society doesn’t account for the money.

Then, last week, the contractors who pay county mental health funds to the group say they got word the group was shutting down.

About the nonprofit
  • The Huntington Beach nonprofit, which uses the names Viet America Society and Warner Wellness Center, has been run on and off by O.C. Supervisor Andrew Do’s 22-year-old daughter, according to county and state records.

    • In total, LAist has uncovered that Supervisor Do directed over $13 million to the group since 2021.
    • Supervisor Do never publicly disclosed his close family ties. Most of the money was awarded without ever appearing on public agendas, according to county records and a search of county agendas.
    • The nonprofit charged taxpayers at least 60% more for meals for seniors than another vendor, according to public records reviewed by LAist.

    In February, county officials demanded that the nonprofit explain what happened with millions of taxpayer funds earmarked for the meals.

  • Officials gave them until mid-March to respond and warned that the group could be forced to pay back the money.

How staff were told of lay-offs

According to multiple people with knowledge of developments, Viet America Society staff were informed late last week the group was closing and that staff were laid off — including employees who operate the Vietnamese-language service for the county’s mental health hotline, known as the WarmLine.

That hotline is meant to provide emotional support for people struggling with grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear or loneliness. The hotline averaged over 10,000 monthly calls in recent years for all languages supported, according to a county report.

But NAMI says it later learned the layoffs had been reversed, with employees set to return Monday — and that Do’s daughter’s group “was only undergoing reorganization.”

NAMI President Steve Pitman told LAist over text message that he learned a “restructuring” is taking place at Viet America Society. Asked what the restructuring means, Pitman said a meeting is scheduled for next week to discuss it. Pitman did not respond to a request for an interview, but did reply to written questions.

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Rhiannon Do is seated in a black chair with a white wall behind her wearing large glasses and a white shirt. A lower third graphic says "Rhiannon Do Fall 2020-Spring 2021 Legislative Intern."
Rhiannon Do in a YouTube video posted in August 2021 by the Steinberg Institute where she was an intern.
Screenshot via YouTube

Messages for comment were not returned by Supervisor Do or Viet America Society’s leaders, including Do’s daughter Rhiannon Do and its founder, Peter Pham. In an interview with another media outlet published Nov. 30 and a Dec. 1 op-ed, Do said he did nothing wrong. He hasn’t responded to over a dozen requests for comment from LAist since November.

LAist called Warner Wellness Center’s main phone number, and asked about the layoff and shut-down announcement. The person who picked up said they didn’t know anything about it, and that they did not have authority to answer the question.

Details of the suspension

NAMI suspended Viet America Society’s WarmLine operations “to maintain program integrity, until both parties could meet and outstanding issues could be resolved,” wrote Durham, the NAMI CEO.

An O.C. Health Care Agency spokesperson confirmed Wednesday evening that the group’s hotline work is suspended, and that work is being “absorbed” by NAMI.

NAMI says it has taken in four hotline employees from Viet America Society.

“We can effectively manage the current Vietnamese community [hotline] demand with our expanded bilingual team,” Durham said.

She said NAMI learned of the planned shutdown from an email at 11:23 p.m. last Wednesday. The exact wording, she said, was that Warner Wellness Center would “close down our office for business effective immediately.”

‘They haven’t returned calls or emails’

The other county contractor who pays Viet America Society for mental health work says they’ve been trying to get answers but that Rhiannon Do and Pham have been unreachable for days.

We’ve tried to reach out to their leadership and haven’t heard from anyone.
— Mary Anne Foo, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance

“We’re not sure what’s going on. We’ve tried to reach out to their leadership and haven’t heard from anyone,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), in a text message.

OCAPICA pays Viet America Society for mental health outreach under a $625,000 subcontract funded by the county.

“We’ve emailed and called,” Foo said. “Someone did finally answer [at the office] and say they’ll give them the message we’re trying to reach them.”

“I don’t know if they realize that it’s just not shutting and locking your door,” Foo added.

“There’s so much more for nonprofits to dissolve and that’s why most need 90 days to close out for compliance as well as you have to keep all the backup for at least 7 years post contract,” she said.

What do county supervisors do?
  • The five county supervisors are some of the most powerful people in Orange County, deciding about $9 billion in spending each year on key government services like public health, mental health, law enforcement and child protective services.

    • They oversee much of the social safety net that handles health care for O.C.’s most vulnerable residents. 
    • They control how much funding goes to key law enforcement agencies — like the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office— and can influence how it’s spent. 
    • They’re also the bosses of public health officials and can have a major impact on things like mask requirements during a pandemic and how much information — or how little — the public gets. And whether that information is accurate.
    • Over the few years, the supervisors have granted themselves at least $13 million each that they distribute in their districts as they see fit without public votes on the spending. The vast majority came from federal coronavirus relief dollars.

Subcontract requires advance notice

LAist asked NAMI leaders if Warner Wellness gave them 7 days' advance notice of staffing changes, as required by its subcontract.

“No,” Durham replied.

Viet America Society’s WarmLine subcontract with NAMI also requires 90 days’ advance notice before terminating the agreement.

The group’s subcontract with OCAPICA has the same requirements.

Foo said an immediate shutdown would also cause other problems.

“I know they have liability and directors and officers insurance,” she said. “So if they don’t comply, then funders and others have to deal with their insurance company regarding compliance and unaccounted expenditures.”

County still seeks answers

Multiple county officials told LAist the county has been trying to find out what’s happening.

“The information we received from NAMI is [Viet America Society] is currently restructuring,” said Ellen Guevara, spokesperson for the county Health Care Agency, which oversees the mental health funding that flows to Viet America through NAMI and OCAPICA.

“NAMI is monitoring the situation closely and will keep us updated on any changes. We are continuing to remain in contact with NAMI,” Guevara said.

Over the past few months, an LAist investigation has revealed Supervisor Do has directed over $13 million to Viet America Society since 2021 but did not publicly disclose his close family connection. His daughter Rhiannon Do became business partners with Viet America Society’s founder in 2021 and has been listed on and off as the group’s president on state and county records since late 2022.

How to watchdog your local government

Most of the money was directed to the group by Do without disclosing the funding on public meeting agendas — meaning the awards were made outside of the public eye.

Regardless of Viet America Society’s next steps, Pitman said Tuesday that the Vietnamese WarmLine will continue to operate and the nonprofit’s doors remain open.

“Rest assured,” he said via text message, “we remain committed to serving the Orange County Vietnamese community, both independently and with support from Warner Wellness!”

By the end of that day, NAMI suspended Warner Wellness from working on the hotline due to the overdue documents, according to Durham, the NAMI CEO.

Viet America Society’s state charity status is delinquent

Last month, the state Attorney General’s Office warned Viet America Society it was delinquent on its state charity status because it failed to file required annual financial disclosures, among other records.

The delinquency stems from failure to submit filings due on May 15 of last year, according to a spokesperson for the AG’s office.

In its letter to Viet America Society, the AG’s office wrote:

“An organization that is listed as delinquent is not in good standing and is prohibited from engaging in conduct for which registration is required, including soliciting or disbursing charitable funds.”

Full Coverage
  • Nick Gerda has been reporting on questions about how tax-payer money has been used in Orange County since late last year.

    • In November, LAist reported that Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do was involved in directing $3.1 million to a mental health center where his daughter, Rhiannon Do, was president. That was over the course of the previous year.
    • A major trial over an Orange County homeless service center was suddenly derailed in November when Do, who was testifying as a witness, failed to disclose he’s married to a high-ranking judge at the court.
    • Weeks later, LAist reported that records showed missing audits for $4 million in taxpayer funding earmarked to provide meals for seniors and people with disabilities.
    • LAist then obtained county records that showed Do directed an additional $6.2 million in taxpayer dollars to his daughter’s group without publicly disclosing the family ties.
    • In February, LAist reported that O.C. officials said millions on funding were unaccounted for by the group and warned it could be forced to repay the funds.
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