Vito Lopez's Non-profits: Investigation Widening, Money Freezing
Friday, September 24, 2010
Everyone says they'll tackle corruption - even within their own party. Enter Vito Lopez. He's the Brooklyn Democratic County Leader whose well-funded, sprawling network of non-profits seems to be testing that notion.
Lopez founded the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center Council before getting elected to the Assembly in 1984. As Lopez rose through the ranks, the organization expanded, and took in more and more public funds. It gets $75 million a year from the city and $25 million a year from the state.
But oversight at the organization has been lacking.
Lopez's campaign treasurer draws a six-figure salary from the non-profit. So does Lopez's girlfriend. And, as the New York Post reported, 7 of 9 board of directors supposedly overseeing the organization, had no clue what the group was doing, or where the money was going.
Now, new money heading to the group is being held up.
A spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg says they're holding up new contracts with the group until the state attorney general gives the organization a clean bill of health. Cuomo has staked his gubernatorial candidacy on fixing the "swamp of corruption" that is Albany.
The state comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, is up for statewide election for the first time, and has added an "additional layer of review" on the group. DiNapoli, it should be noted, got into the comptroller's office when Lopez and other colleagues selected DiNapoli to finish the barely-started term of Alan Hevesi, who left after his own financial scandal.
And the attorney general candidates are getting into the act. Already, the Staten Island District Attorney, Republican Dan Donovan, is prosecuting a former Ridgewood Bushwick employee who submitted 50 photocopies of the same timesheet, trying to prove the karate program she was teaching was attended by dozens of kids.
Donovan is handling the case after the Brooklyn District Attorney, Democrat Joe Hynes, asked to be taken off the case, citing his close relationship with Lopez.
The Democratic Attorney General candidate, Eric Schneiderman, told reporters he'd investigate the organization if there was evidence of wrongdoing.
For Republicans, Lopez and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council is just the latest face on an ever-growing list of state officials who've gotten tangled up on the wrong side of the law.
The list includes Governor Eliot Spitzer, Governor David Paterson, State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, State Senator Pedro Espada, State Senator Kevin Parker (who Donovan is prosecuting later this year for assaulting a New York Post photographer), State Senator Hiram Monserrate, State Senator Diane Gordon, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, and Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio - just to name a few.