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  • Writer's picturePulse Families and Survivors for Justice

OnePULSE Foundation: Exploitation and Conflicts of Interest



Between 2019 and 2024, we tracked serious ethical issues surrounding the OnePULSE Foundation and its founder Barbara Poma.


In 2019, we began organizing against the OnePULSE Foundation after founder Barbara Poma began selling our tragedy as a tourist attraction. We were moved into action by Barbara Poma’s six-figure salary while victims were struggling to pay bills, her presentation to the Orange County Tourism Development Council, the $45M price tag for their proposed memorial/museum, and the OnePULSE Foundation’s blatant disregard for victims.


We were even more upset when we learned through private phone calls from Commissioner Patty Sheehan that unpermitted renovations and code violations (including blocked exits) at the Pulse Nightclub hindered the escape and rescue of shooting victims on June 12, 2016.


This led us to a 5-year struggle for public records, many of which revealed that the owners of the Pulse Nightclub (and founders of the OnePULSE Foundation), Rosario Poma and Barbara Poma, broke the law. Some of these issues even made front page news in the Orlando Sentinel.



Via public records obtained so far, we found blocked exit routes, an unpermitted patio where one victim was found slain, an illegally covered window, moved walls, an upstairs office that doesn’t exist on any building plans, illegally renovated bathrooms where victims were trapped for hours, and more. We even found that responding police officers had no building plans and had to hand-draw the layout on a wet piece of paper (wet from sweat) as they tried to locate victims trapped inside.


Records also indicate that the nightclub was overcapacity on the night of the shooting, as it was numerous nights before the shooting. On multiple occasions, management was instructed by the Orlando Fire Department to keep count of patrons at all times to prevent overcrowding. This was not done and the clicker counter was never taken into evidence. There was no criminal investigation.


Instead, the City of Orlando tried to hide what they knew and even redacted documents to keep this information from the public years after the shooting.


You can view all of these records and listen to the voices of Pulse victims/survivors at http://www.nopulsemuseum.info.


We have also posted the records and videos to our social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


In fact, these documents formed the basis of the 2019 49 Question Campaign, in which Pulse victims and members of the affected Orlando LGBTQ+ community demanded answers from the Orlando City Council.


Fed up with being ignored, victims' families and survivors marched to the Orlando Police Department Headquarters in the summer of 2023 and demanded an investigation. This was documented in the New York Times.



To date, the questions from our 49 Question Campaign remain unanswered even though the City of Orlando has taken over the memorial project that the onePULSE Foundation failed to build or even break ground. The City expects victims' families and survivors to cooperate with them to build a memorial, while they continue to refuse to cooperate with the victims' families and survivors who want answers that only the City can provide.


Again, there was never a criminal investigation – but, in looking at the City of Orlando, you find plenty of conflicts of interest, which may explain why.



CONFLICTS OF INTEREST


Instead of ordering an investigation in the aftermath of the mass shooting, Mayor "Buddy" Dyer joined the Chairman’s Ambassador’s Council of the onePULSE Foundation.


The Chairman of the onePULSE Foundation was an eminent domain attorney, Earl Crittenden, who was the City of Orlando's Chief Protocol Officer—appointed by Mayor "Buddy" Dyer himself. Earl Crittenden is also employed by the law firm GrayRobinson, which was once presided over by City Attorney Mayanne Downs. She too is still employed by the law firm and is a shareholder.


Public records sent from Mayanne Down's GrayRobinson email address show that this law firm was involved in protecting the City of Orlando from possible litigation brought against it by Pulse shooting victims.


Thus, the same lawyers who are protecting the City of Orlando from litigation brought by Pulse victims were simultaneously claiming to represent the victims through the onePULSE Foundation.


Mayanne Downs also facilitated a behind-closed-doors real estate deal between the dissolving onePULSE Foundation, which had to liquidate its assets, and her private client Craig Mateer. They hoped that the City would purchase this property from him in the future for the City's memorial. The lot was twice the size and half the price of what the City of Orlando paid for the Poma's nightclub property.


Rosario Poma also owned and operated a restaurant INSIDE City Hall before the shooting. He was well-connected with the City and its leaders.


Request 23-8366 - Wildside Cafe 400 S Orange LLC - Lease File.pdf-redacted.pdf-redacted
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You can read about many of these conflicts here in The Nation.


In addition to the culpability of the Pomas and City that is documented in public records, there’s also the issue of the Poma’s greed. Following the shooting, the City fought to purchase the Pulse Nightclub from Barbara and Rosario Poma for a public memorial. They began negotiations with the Pomas who wanted $4M for the nightclub property, roughly four times its market value.



The City eventually agreed to $2.25M because it understood the importance of memorialization as a public project. However, the Pomas backed out of the deal and used their newly formed nonprofit to turn our tragedy into what was a $100M capital campaign that paid multiple executives six-figure salaries.


Most of this is documented in an exposé on the failed nonprofit published by the Orlando Sentinel in 2024 after the onePULSE Foundation's dissolution.



FALSE NARRATIVES


In an effort to collect as much money as possible, while traveling the world to visit memorials and living a luxurious lifestyle while taking a six-figure paycheck from the nonprofit that was also paying her private property taxes, Barbara Poma and the onePULSE Foundation's marketing were instrumental in spreading around sanitized, feel-good narratives about the shooting that were false and misleading to the public.


As she joined hands with the Orange County Regional History Museum, we grew concerned that her nonprofit’s control over the history of the massacre would enshrine these false narratives in our nation’s history.


Here is a list of some of those FALSE NARRATIVES:


Barbara Poma FALSELY CLAIMED She Conceived of the Pulse Nightclub to Honor Her Deceased Gay Brother: Local reporting and public records show that Barbara Poma was not documented as the owner of the nightclub until AFTER the shooting. Recorded business documents show Rosario Poma alone was the owner until November 2016, when the Pulse Nightclub was sold for $100 to two LLCs formed a month prior by both Rosario and Barbara Poma.


Furthermore, Pulse was the brainchild of a gay man named Ron Legler, who was an employee of her husband Rosario Poma. The Pulse Nightclub was NOT Barbara Poma's idea. This is documented here. Legler even designed the logo and sign, while Barbara Poma has stated publicly on multiple occasions that it was never her intention to start a gay bar.


Many FALSELY CLAIMED the Response of Law Enforcement was Swift, Followed Protocol, and Courageous: Under the leadership of Barbara Poma, the onePULSE Foundation has used the 9/11 Memorial Museum model to honor first responders—often overshadowing the LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx victims/survivors. However, when the World Trade Center was attacked, brave first responders risked their lives to save people. They rushed into crumbling buildings. Many even died doing their jobs to protect civilians.


This was NOT done at the Pulse Nightclub by the Orlando Police and Fire Departments.


As a result, the massacre lasted 3 hours, with people trapped inside, shot, and bleeding to death. Reporting and medical analysis shows that many victims had “survivable wounds” and their deaths were preventable had police and paramedics rescued them sooner and been adequately prepared. In fact, the Fire Station located across the street from the nightclub locked its doors to fleeing victims and remained on lockdown until about 2:13 AM, forcing units from other stations to respond as they watched victims run from the club and bang on the station's doors. Meanwhile, those unable to escape the Pulse Nightclub bled out on the dance floor and in the nightclub’s bathrooms.


People are still up in arms that it took 77 minutes to rescue the school children in Uvalde, but it took 3 hours to rescue survivors in the nightclub in Orlando. Just as what occurred in Uvalde, the situation was changed from Active Shooter to Barricaded Gunman. There was documented police inaction and reckless response delays. Neither police force followed active shooter protocol.


The response at Pulse has been publicly scrutinized (see here, here, and here) and continues to be criticized, despite the continual praise of responders given by the City of Orlando, the Orange County Regional History Center, local politicians, and the onePULSE Foundation. These failures should never be erased in place of false praise emanating through museum exhibits, nonprofits, and politicians' mouths. For the sake of the shooting's victims, the facts are what matters.


Barbara Poma FALSELY Portayed Herself as a Victim: By using her privileged position as “property owner,” Barbara Poma stole the memorialization process from the victims’ families and began collecting millions for a museum that would have distorted our lived history for future generations—had we not been successful in stopping them. She has been able to do this while being sued by actual victims and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting through public relations professionals and clever marketing that positioned Barbara Poma as a victim who lost a business.


The truth was, public records show that Barbara and Rosario Poma claimed to not have enough money to even install the required life safety equipment. They told the City they were broke and would be forced to shut down.



Barbara Poma didn't lose a business. She gained a more lucrative business—the onePULSE Foundation—that paid her handsomely. Barbara and Rosario Poma also received an over $1M payout by their insurance company years prior to selling that same nightclub property for $2M to the City of Orlando in 2023.


As for her feigned personal connection to the LGBTQ+ community, Barbara Poma has publicly acknowledged rarely going to the nightclub, that mistakes were made, and that she was safely on vacation in Mexico when the shooting happened. She wasn't even in the country when people were slaughtered at her business and victims even included Mexican nationals.


Pulse Was FALSELY Touted as a Hate Crime: The OnePULSE Foundation strategically chose marketing slogans to solicit donations that claimed that the massacre at Pulse was a hate-motivated crime targeted against the LGBTQ+ community, including "We Will Not Let Hate Win," "Love Always Wins," and "Love Over Hate." However, the Pulse Nightclub shooting was NOT a "hate crime."


This is well documented here, here, and here and matters if we are to ever accurately understand the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Yet, to bring in more money and position themselves as an LGBTQ+ organization, the OnePULSE Foundation chose marketing slogans that did not align with these facts and perpetuated a false narrative. They used the horrific targeted violence experienced daily by the LGBTQ+ community to market themselves and appeal to corporations that support marginalized communities.


Pulse Nightclub Was FALSELY Touted as a Safe Space: At every chance she could get, Pulse Nightclub owner Barbara Poma positioned the nightclub as a "sanctuary" and "safe space." But, riddled with unpermitted renovations and code violations that hindered escape and rescue, this is far from the truth.


Narratives FALSELY Claimed Unity and Resilience Prevailed: The other false narrative propagated by the OnePULSE Foundation is one of unity. Victims have been suing and have been vocally opposed to the nonprofit and its proposed museum. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have also spoken out, many of whom are disgusted by the crass commercialization of the mass shooting by the OnePULSE Foundation, which includes that gift shop.



Many victims/survivors were against the OnePULSE Foundation and its plans to build a $100M private memorial-museum, because survivors still need financial help as a result of their mental and physical injuries incurred in the shooting. No money given to the OnePULSE Foundation goes to these ongoing needs. Instead, it goes to bloated executive salaries, land acquisition, and the ongoing exploitation of LGBTQ+ murder by someone who isn’t even a part of our community.


This, despite Barbara Poma's promise to use the onePULSE Foundation to care for victims/survivors in perpetuity.



The narratives of "Orlando Strong" erased the lived realities and daily struggles of those directly impacted by the mass shooting at Pulse and the true impact of mass murder, which fractured and divided our communities.  The onePULSE Foundation's perpetuation of this idea of "unity" also overshadowed the division the OnePULSE Foundation was actively creating in our community.



TURNING A MASS SHOOTING INTO A TOURIST ATTRACTION


The OnePULSE Foundation continuously used the memorial site (the Pulse Nightclub itself) to market the city of Orlando.


Surrounding the vacant nightclub, the interim memorial has a wall of photos showcasing the City of Orlando with zero photos of victims. Not a single one.


This doesn’t honor victims, but rather turns the massacre site into another marketing campaign for a known tourist destination. Barbara Poma even lobbied the Tourism Bureau for money talking about how many people they could capitalize on daily for the tourism industry in Orlando through the planned memorial and museum.



For years, until the onePULSE Foundation terminated its lease with Barbara Poma, there was a gift shop just feet away from bullet holes and where dead bodies were removed from the building. From this little kiosk, the onePULSE Foundation would sell t-shirts and trinkets during special events—crassly monetizing the massacre on hollowed ground.



This nonprofit’s effort to turn the Pulse massacre into a tourist attraction reflected its Board members, who were Disney executives, the CEO of Reservations.com, and a space tourism CEO. The actual victims' families were not included.


In 2022 and with no other involvement in the tourism industry, Barbara Poma joined the Board of Visit Orlando—the city’s official tourism board that also received millions from Orange County in tourism development tax dollars. Poma joined this other nonprofit, even as she countered criticism with false claims that the onePULSE Foundation's memorial-museum project was not about tourism.



Barbara Poma changed her words, but not her actions.


Sandy Hook families successfully sued conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for his harmful lies, while Barbara Poma also spread lies and was allowed to personally profit off those lies surrounding a mass shooting.



VICTIMS' VOICES SILENCED


Our voices continue being silenced by both the City of Orlando and the OnePULSE Foundation as they cover up the documented facts and exploit the massacre. Through this ongoing exploitation of our pain, they are continuously ripping open a wound that will never fully heal.


As the City of Orlando now has control over the Pulse Nightclub property and the future memorial, we have asked that they do not follow the path of the onePULSE Foundation. We have publicly asked that they discontinue the Community Rainbow Run and build a proper public memorial with the victims' families leading the way using public funds. The whole purpose of a public memorial was to end the crass monetization of mass murder, which includes having donating joggers retrace the path that survivors took as they ran for their lives in a 4.9k race.


We have also asked that our families have more say in the Annual Remembrance Ceremony, as many live out of the City of Orlando, the State of Florida, and even outside of the United States. Who is the City of Orlando putting on the Remembrance Ceremony for if not for the families of the 49?


While some can participate in the memorial process created by the City, many can't because of the lack of access to technology.


Some of us have also refused in protest until we have accountability and justice for the documented unpermitted renovations and code violations at Pulse. Also, because the City of Orlando has ignored our requests, emails, and preferred methods of participation.


The City claims it can not help victims' families travel for the events that they are putting on in their names, but it has paid mediator Dr. Larry Schooler around $89,000.00 to facilitate conversations between victims and the City. Conversations that victims have initiated for years and that the City has long ignored.


We are tired of being lied to and gaslit. We want justice!



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