Longform

The Bermudez Triangle

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Though he initially told New Times that his group was a 501(c)(3), months later he has admitted he hasn't actually filed the paperwork.

"We have not gotten the certification from the IRS, and, and, and that's why you won't see corporate donations," he says. "I'm in the process right now. We need to do that. We need to do that."

He adds that many of his donors don't worry about claiming deductions anyway. Most don't pay income taxes because they are undocumented. He says he's donated his own money to the group, but he considers that money a loan, not a charitable donation, so he doesn't care about a tax deduction either.

If his group were a 501(c)(3), Bermudez and Inmigrantes would not have to pay taxes on the income generated by donations. It's not clear what benefit he's getting by not filing the proper paperwork, but he has his excuses.

His main reason: "It's expensive to do that."

The IRS currently charges $700 to file for tax-exempt status. According to the agency, the group should still have filed tax returns since 2005 in spite of its pending status.

There is a 27-month grace period allowed when a nonprofit is working toward tax-exemption, and the clock runs out for Inmigrantes in January. If they miss the deadline, the group could face a financial penalty and would lose the ability to make claims retroactively to its incorporation date. Failing to file is a civil offense.


Before he was Elias Bermudez, activist, self-styled martyr, felon, and radio personality, he was Elias Bermudez, illegal immigrant.

Today, Bermudez is comfortable, established, and, if not exactly wealthy, he's decidedly upper-middle class. He owns three homes plus the building his business is in. He drives a BMW. His Bluetooth is permanently affixed to his ear. Over breakfast at the Good Egg in central Phoenix (two eggs sunny-side up and an English muffin, no butter — he's trying to lose a few pounds) he recalls how he came to America and then to Phoenix. His story is almost cinematic as he tells it, pausing in the right places to maximize the drama, peppering the conversation with pro-immigration rhetoric. Yet, at times he also shifts uncomfortably; he's better at painting an idyllic picture than talking details. When he gets to some of the more awkward parts of the story — his felony arrest, for example — he talks rapidly. Every sentence begins with an excuse.

In 1967, Bermudez was working at a gas station in Baja Mexico when a man from the United States pulled up in a truck. The 17-year-old Bermudez filled his tank and listened to his offer for work across the border in Los Angeles. Three weeks later, Bermudez hopped in a car and wound up in East L.A.

He worked odd jobs, in factories and then as a dishwasher.

"I wound up managing the restaurant," he says.

He tried to stay away from gangs and became involved with student activists. He's not big on sharing the details, save for one about a pivotal moment in 1968, during the East L.A. walkouts.

"I was just standing on a corner watching all the stuff going on when a police car parked near by. He said, 'Come over here.' I approached the car and he reached over and grabbed my belt with his left hand and, with his right, checked my pockets. He found I didn't have any weapons and he just pushed me on my back," he says. "That's probably why I became an activist."

But before he could become a political figure, he needed to become a U.S. citizen. In 1972, he married his first wife, Olga Chervony of Puerto Rico, and was able to naturalize within a year. The couple divorced seven years later.

He'd been taking classes at East L.A. College but dropped out in 1974 and moved to San Luis, a small border town in southwestern Arizona.

Today, San Luis is home to about 20,000 people. When Bermudez moved there, the population hovered near 1,000.

Five years later, he met his current wife, Dora. They had a common-law marriage for years and were legally married in 1990. Dora recalls a romantic courtship.

"I was working at an import-export store and he usually go there every day, and he leave me a cinnamon lollipop everyday," she says. "I have a desk drawer of cinnamon lollipops still. He was a gentleman. He opened the door for me and all the stuff ladies like. I fell in love with him."

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin