Little Tokyo community responds to scandal at important cultural community center

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The Japanesse American Cultural and Community Center announced president Greg Willis' sudden resignation last week, after revelations that Willis had been convicted and sentenced for misuse of funds at a previous job in France.

Since the Japanese American organization hired Willis less than seven months ago, he was the focus of turmoil.

At least eight staff members had resigned or been laid off during his tenure, amid what some employees called a “hostile work environment.”

Evelyn Yoshimura, the Center’s community organizing director, says she had doubts about Willis from the beginning: he had no connection to Japanese Americans and no experience in non-profits or arts organizations.

"But that in and of itself was OK, even," she says, "because if he was going to provide a younger, newer vision for arts in L.A., or something like that, I could even see it."

But, Yoshimura maintains, he did not.

Yoshimura signed an open letter this week condemning Willis, along with more than a dozen other members of Little Tokyo’s Japanese nonprofit and corporate sectors.

Officials at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center did not respond to an interview request.

Questions remain about why the organization hired Willis, especially since details about his criminal past are just a Google search away.

Willis is believed to be on the run, wanted by French authorities for misappropriation and misuse of corporate money and other criminal convictions.

Willis was incorrectly titled board president in an earlier version of this post. Thanks to our commenters for pointing out the error.