NEW YORK – Community leader Rene Ballenas, founding president of Team United Maharlika Foundation Inc., was sentenced on Tuesday, Mar. 5 after pleading guilty to two counts of grand larceny second-degree felony. Immediately after the sentencing he was processed for incarceration at the Eric M. Taylor Center in Rikers Island.
According to public documents, Ballenas’ projected release date is Nov. 1, 2013
“Rene Ballenas was sentenced yesterday to one year in jail upon his plea of guilty which he entered on January 22, 2013. He will serve 8 months (due to expected reduction in sentence for good behavior),” said Oscar Michelen of Cuomo Law Offices, his legal counsel.
Michelen said Ballenas “was joined by family, friends, his pastor and other supporters as he was sentenced.” Greg Agulan who was also present said there were less than ten people at the sentencing hearing. Likewise, Cynthia, Ballenas’ wife, said in a telephone interview “the hearing was brief and quick.”
“Rene could have opted for probation but he wanted to be over with this matter,” she added. “He wanted to move on.”
According to sentencing guidelines, the maximum penalty for grand larceny is seven years or a minimum of two-and-a-half-years if Ballenas’ case went into trial. This not being a violent crime along with many other considerations, a judge could reduce sentencing.
This led to speculations Ballenas may have taken a plea bargain for a lesser sentence considering he was earlier charged, according to reports, with grand larceny and burglary.
According to sources, he presented himself at the precinct and was arrested in October after he was caught on surveillance video taking valuables like iPads, a fur cape, a piece of artwork, a necklace, shirts, toner and bottles of wine a total value of over $7,000.
While Ballenas was out on $10,000 bail, his friends put up a petition site in the Internet seeking comments from those who know him to “certify Rene Ballenas as a Man of Good Character.” About 260 posted messages from the U.S. and abroad.
Dr. James Pastor of Pennsylvania wrote: “Mr. Rene Ballenas is an exceptional man of good moral character. Through his humble capacity he continues to be of help to those who are less fortunate & very sensitive to their needs. He is a man of service, prayer, faith and integrity- major marks of true leadership. It is a blessing to know Rene!”
“Everyone deserves a second chance,” wrote Mrs. Ma. Gilda Natividad from New York.
After losing the presidential election of the Philippine Independence Day Council, Inc. (PIDCI) in October 2011, Ballenas founded the Team United Maharlika Foundation with a vision to empower young people and promote transparency. The organization was also involved in raising funds for flood victims caused by superstorm Sandy and typhoon Pablo in the Philippines. He was also involved in medical missions, which gained the appreciation of Dr. Luzviminda Concepcion of Nevada.
Conception wrote in the petition site: “The first time I met Rene Ballenas was last year when I joined the surgical mission in Tubod, Iligan City where a lot of patients where helped & underwent surgery. This mission was coordinated by Rene Ballenas. I also witness his generosity when he went to 4 different barangays in Iligan that were affected by the typhoon Sendong & he distributed money to a lot of people who came.”
Clyde Hollins of New York wrote: “I cannot speak to the events that have led to this petition. I can however, speak on the public image of this man. He has shown himself to be a very caring, committed and well respected community leader. He spreads kindness, charity, and goodwill that is infectious throughout the community, inspiring others to follow his lead. I am not a Philippine American myself, but I can clearly see that the community would be substantially diminished by his removal from that community. Much more so for his family. I suspect that many from that community are unnecessarily afraid to attest to his character here, because they are first generation Americans, or are not yet Citizens themselves, but aspire to be. They should know that any such fear is UNFOUNDED.”
Other friends of Ballenas sought for this story declined comment. Agulan, vice president of Team United Maharlika, said he will take over the helms of the organization in the absence of Ballenas.
“It is a very sad for the Ballenas family and the Filipino community. I fully expect that when he gets released he will continue his humanitarian efforts and his support to the Filipino community,” Michelen said.
Photo credit: Balitang America