Lopez’s “Non-Profit” Kingdom of Fraud Highlights Other Politically Connected Charities and Scandals
Many of you are familiar with this story already, I’m sure.
It describes the unbridled corruption of Sen. Marty Golden and Brooklyn GOP Chairman Craig “The Duke of Bay Ridge” Eaton‘s Catholic Citizens Committee colleague Vito Lopez.
As many of you are aware, Lopez is not alone when it comes to controversy involving non-profit organizations. Mr. Eaton and Sen. Golden have also had alleged corrupt dealings with their various connected groups, including Eaton’s MHE Foundation and HeartShare Human Services of New York.
As such, this story is not irrelevant by any means to what’s going on in our own local party.
Here is the substance of Erin Durkin and Adam Lisberg’s piece:
A secret city report says Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez’s nonprofit empire is riddled with fraud and incompetence – and it’s stonewalling attempts to clean it up.
An internal Department of Investigation report obtained by the Daily News outlined at least $340,000 in fraudulent or fishy claims submitted to the city by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and affiliated groups – a chain of nonprofits founded by the state Assemblyman.
“A lack of oversight and internal controls enabled the fraudulent schemes to occur … unnoticed and unchecked,” the report says. “There was insufficient fiscal or management oversight.”
Workers billing the city for their work either falsified attendance sheets – or kept no sheets at all, the report said.
One worker at Ridgewood Bushwick‘s Hope Gardens senior center was even arrested in April for falsifying attendance sheets.
Her supervisor, longtime Community Board 4 Chairman Anna Gonzalez, was a key figure in many of the frauds, DOI said.
Gonzalez, who died last year, tried to double-bill agencies and arranged a consulting contract for her sister, the report says.
She even opened a nonprofit inside Hope Gardens without telling her supervisors at Ridgewood Bushwick.
Christiana Fisher, the group’s $659,591-a-year executive director – and Lopez’ campaign treasurer – said oversight could only go so far.
“Fisher insisted that Ridgewood Bushwick has good internal controls but they also have to trust and rely on the supervisors and directors to operate in an honest way,” the DOI report says.
“If they do not, Fisher stated, she cannot know that, asserting she has no ‘crystal ball’ and is not a ‘mind-reader.'”
Lopez, the chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee, founded Ridgewood Bushwick in 1973. Though he no longer has a formal relationship with it, he frequently hosts high-ranking pols there, including Mayor Bloomberg.
It is the dominant social service group in the poor neighborhoods on the Brooklyn-Queens border – and funded by over $75 million worth of city contracts. It’s also the base of Lopez’s political power.
A clueless board
DOI’s alarming findings prompted the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services to request a deeper probe which concluded the group’s nine-member board had no idea how to manage it: Members had no experience in nonprofits and were clueless about its finances.
“Two board members who are not fluent in English indicated having a limited ability to understand everything being discussed at the meetings,” the report says. “However, both told DOI that they recalled always voting ‘yes’ whenever a vote was taken.”
The mayor’s office proposed a seven-point plan to fix Ridgewood Bushwick’s flaws, including hiring new financial experts and lawyers, allowing an independent auditor to examine its books, and adding qualified board members.
“As of this date, a number of these measures requested by the city have not yet been implemented or even commenced,” the DOI report says.
The report indicates DOI is continuing to scrutinize Ridgewood Bushwick’s finances. A DOI spokesman declined to comment. Calls to Fisher and Lopez were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg said the city didn’t cancel any of the contracts because it didn’t “service disruptions.”
Charities are so convenient to use for corruption since politicians can justify giving taxpayer money to organizations for good causes while filling many of the same organizations with their own cronies and family members.
Then, individuals connected with the non-profit organizations (some being paid massive salaries) give hefty donations to the very politicians that secured those deals for them.
And remember: we foot the bill.
Take this other story about another notably corrupted Democrat, Sen. Carl Kruger, who has had numerous dealings with Sen. Golden and even “honored” Craig Eaton with a resolution in the State Senate. It involves the building of a multi-million dollar complex for a Community Board headed by two special employees (thanks to a fellow reader for forwarding this story to us):
The city is spending $7 million in taxpayer money on a state-of-the-art office building for a Brooklyn community board that has only two employees — state Sen. Carl Kruger’s girlfriend and sister, The Post has learned.
It’s a costly “giveback” to Community Board 18 and the embattled Brooklyn Democrat for his backing nearly two decades ago of a $357 million
city sewage-overflow storage plant, which is just now being built at Paerdegat Basin, officials said.
“It’s a sweetheart deal for a community board run like a family-owned store,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of the government-watchdog group Citizens Union.
Dadey said the recently completed 4,000-square-foot office and meeting space is “so out of context” with what other local boards get that it will just open the floodgates to others asking for the same.
It’s rare for community boards to have dedicated city-owned office and meeting spaces. Most rent offices, are advised not to exceed 1,500 square feet of space, and host public meetings at larger spaces, city officials said.
But the city is paying the price now for a deal the Dinkins administration cut in the early 1990s, while Kruger chaired CB 18 and the Department of Environmental Protection project was up for approval by the board.
Both Kruger and his girlfriend, CB 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano, defended the new offices, saying that since 1977, the board has been forced to operate out of a converted two-room apartment at the Glenwood Houses, a low-income housing project in Canarsie.
Besides Turano, Kruger’s sister, Marlene Berger, works for the board as its secretary.
That was from The New York Post.
This is what our city and state are facing: abuse of power and authority on the part of our elected officials and party leaders.
Meanwhile, charities that could be doing good work are hamstrung by potential illegality and profligacy.
It is my hope that these organizations will very soon begin to be examined even more carefully by state and/or federal authorities. Our government cannot tolerate this type of corruption for much longer.
Incidentally, we are continuing to inquire about HeartShare and the MHE Foundation from a variety of sources. We hope to provide more information regarding them in the near future.