Today’s news:

This is supposed to be a senior center. It’s actually Vito Lopez’s clubhouse

The Brooklyn Paper

A Bushwick nonprofit that gets $1 million in taxpayer dollars to provide services for seniors is instead renting out its first floor to Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s political clubhouse — and giving back some of that money in “consulting fees” to the embattled lawmaker.

Brooklyn Queens Family Respite — a subsidiary of the Lopez-affiliated Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, itself the subject of three city and federal investigations — has managed a respite center for disabled seniors on Decatur Street in Queens for 13 years while also owning and collecting rent from two other buildings on Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick.

The subsidiary’s mission is to provide support to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council for the “promotion of respite services” and to “own and operate buildings used to provide these services.”

But one of those buildings has served primarily as the headquarters for Lopez’s political activities since the nonprofit purchased it in 1997.

Lopez’s Bushwick United Democratic Club rents the windowless first floor from the nonprofit, which plasters the Wyckoff Avenue windows with posters of its favored candidates — Lopez and unsuccessful Attorney General wannabe Kathleen Rice were this year’s hyped candidates.

The club has paid $23,805 for rent over the last 10 years — paying an estimated $200 a month for the Wyckoff Avenue space — but it has not registered with state or city agencies as a political action committee. As such, its financial documents are not public.

Political reformers such as New Kings Democrats founder Matt Cowherd think that’s a problem.

“It’s no surprise that Vito runs his political club the same way he runs the Brooklyn Democratic Party: with zero transparency,” said Cowherd.

In 1998, Lopez collected $57,600 in consulting fees from a Ridgewood Bushwick subsidiary called Community Property Management, the managing agent of several of the nonprofit’s buildings including the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizen Housing on Himrod Street, an assisted living center for senior citizens. It is unclear what the money was for.

Tax attorney Tracy Bolotnik of Hurwitz Associates called the relationship between Lopez and the senior services nonprofit “problematic.”

“If there is this person calling the shots for the nonprofit or used his influence to ensure he would have nice real estate for his political work, that becomes problematic,” said Bolotnik.

Such criticism of Lopez and the nonprofit arms of his political empire are certainly not new. In the last month, the Bushwick lawmaker has made headlines for his involvement with the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which is the subject of three investigations.

The nonprofit has had its funding frozen pending the outcome of a state investigation into alleged fraud — but the city and state recently released $135 million in funding in new home care contracts for Medicaid recipients by Ridgewood Bushwick.

The Department of Investigation has already found evidence that Ridgewood Bushwick did not provide some services for which it was paid.

The connections between the Family Respite subsidiary and Lopez are deeper than a landlord-tenant relationship.

The Brooklyn Queens Family Respite’s board consists of two high-ranking and high paid Ridgewood Bushwick executives — Christiana Fisher and Marie Elena Zullo — and the nonprofit shares its chief financial officer with Ridgewood Bushwick.

Zullo wears two hats: She’s not only the president of Family Respite, but also the assistant executive director at Ridgewood Bushwick, where she earned $219,258 in 2009.

Fisher, who is also Lopez’s campaign treasurer, earned $685,975 in 2009 as Ridgewood Bushwick’s executive director. She’s Family Respite’s only other board member.

This year, Brooklyn Queens Family Respite received $1 million in government grants, plus reported $94,800 in rental payments from its buildings. But payments from Lopez’s political club are not accounted for in the group’s tax filings.

Calls made to the nonprofit’s tax preparers, Koch Associates, were not returned for comment.

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Reader Feedback

Sue from Park Slope says:
You're not serious, are you? I work near here, and the space in question isn't nearly large enough to be a senior center. It's really only the size of a small store. Another question I have is, why can't RBSCC rent this space to who they want? Your not for profit expert doesn't say they can't.

A lot of these articles about RBSCC seem to be mix-n-match versions of old articles, where you substitute false standards with the actual rules. I have friends that work very hard for RBSCC and do good work in the community, and these articles, without ever showing wrongdoing, are only hurting them and the good work they do.
Oct. 13, 2010, 6:11 am
Tony from Bay Ridge says:
Just to remind everybody...Newly elected "reform for a day" District Leader Kevin Peter Carroll voted for Vito Lopez. Does Kevin Peter Carroll support this? Of course he does. Why else did he vote for Vito Lopez to run his party?
Oct. 13, 2010, 11:08 am
Dave from Park Slope says:
Yeah, Vito's a reformer who's being railroaded by the Brooklyn Paper. Right.
Oct. 13, 2010, 1:16 pm
Frank from Cobble Hill says:
vitos former partner, martin needleman,and his brooklyn legal services corporation,pocketed 600,000 earlier this year when they refinanced ,260 broadway in brooklyn without attorney general approval. needleman is thereby using brooklyn legal services corporation, for his own real estate empire, and masqurading as a non profit. this town stinks.
Oct. 13, 2010, 4:07 pm
Stacy from Marine Park says:
All these non profits are contaminated. in addition to collecting huge rents, needlemans total cash out, on 260 broadway is closer to about 1,470,000 dollars. he got the building for nothing from chase in 2002, according to city records. got 500,000 from independance bank in 2002. another 250,000 in 2007, from ny legal services. and this year he got 720,000 from brooklyn federal. as a lawyer he probably found some loophole, to pocket himself our tax dollars.
Oct. 13, 2010, 4:33 pm
Helen from Greenpoint says:
Too much pork barrel coming from washington and albany, to enrich the heads of these non profits.
Oct. 13, 2010, 5:39 pm
James from Brooklyn Heights says:
While I Agree too much pork, vito lopez has at least given the pork , to the poor hispanics by building thousands of affordable housing units in ridgewood-bushwick. while needleman has lined up his pockets by playing the race card, and filing frivilous lawsuits against every affordable-homeless project in the area.
Oct. 13, 2010, 6:09 pm
Joyce from Fort Greene says:
For over 30 years, Martin Needleman-BLS , has been living off the fat of our tax dollars, BY PITTING ONE GROUP AGAINST THE OTHER, BY FILING LAWSUITS, AND PLAYING THE RACE CARD. in 1995 over a dozen state senators filed a petition to ask the state to stop funding BLS. the feds should investigate and file rico, for his long running conspiracy, with los-sures and st. nicohlas, to get hud and state-city funds, to renovate many building for triple that they actually cost, and pocketing millions through the back door.
Oct. 13, 2010, 6:32 pm
anywho says:
jew bashing, nice
Oct. 13, 2010, 6:37 pm
LARRY from WILLIAMSBURG says:
Anywho, you are totally ignorant. jew bashing king is needleman. HE HAS BEEN BATTLING THE POOR HASIDIM FOR 35 YEARS, IN FEDERAL COURT,TO GET THEM OUT OF PUBLIC HOUSING. HE FILED HIS LAWSUIT NOW AGAINST, THE UNITED JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS OF WILLIAMSBURGH, A SPONSOR OF THE BROADWAY TRIANGLE PROJECT, WHICH WILL PROVIDE THOUSANDS OF AFFORDABLE UNITS, FOR POOR HISPANICS-BLACKS AND HASIDIM.
Oct. 13, 2010, 6:57 pm
David from Borough Park says:
Larry, you forgot to mention Needlemans main point in his lawsuit, against the broadway triangle is, that it was designed with big units .to accomadate the large poor hasidic families. so, who is jew-bashing? looks like anywho, lives in kansas.
Oct. 13, 2010, 7:08 pm
anywho says:
Love it. Like the Hasids care two cents about poor blacks and latinos. You guys gave me a good laugh. A BIG HA. No my ignorant friends, I am from the Southside, that's right, the good ole SOUTHSIDE. I am also a dark skinned latino. So there. I have all the discriminatory factors. What has a Hasid done for me lately? Not a damn thing. Do I care, no. You stay on your side, I will stay on mine. OK?
Oct. 13, 2010, 8 pm
Bob from Williamsburg says:
Larry, Joyce and James -- There's a big difference between organizations that are so polically tied that they get preferential treatment in state and city contracts and grants (RBSCC/Lopez) and those that have little sway in that process (Brooklyn Legal Services, St. Nicholas and Los Sures). And according to publicly-disclosed IRS forms, RBSCC senior execs have salaries that are more than double and sometimes triple those of Needleman and others. So, do your research before you throw out accusations. I agree with you that RBSCC does great and important work and has helped thousands of people, and I hope those facts are not lost nor that constituents suffer, but it's clear they've had disporportionate access and influence to government decision-makers.
Oct. 13, 2010, 11:55 pm
seems familiar from Brooklyn says:
More recycled stories:

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/tangled_ties_to_shady_charity_are_v5eMBkErbbRrM8pzkikldP
Oct. 15, 2010, 11:14 pm
landlord from williamburg says:
Needleman is the devil who is filling is own pockets from landlords to steal their houses when he wants something he calls his friends, judges, and hpd inspects to steal your building he has tenants make false reports on landlords and trys to start a 7a on your building so he can steal it he needs to be lock up
March 9, 2011, 1:23 pm
sunny from williamburg says:
I bELIEVE MARTY NEEDLEMAN iS A SNAKE AND A LIAR HE HAS BEEN TRYING TO CASH IN ,IN WILLIAMBURG HEY GET OUT WE DONT LIKE YOU ,WHEN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WAS BAD HE WAS NOT AROUND TO HELP WHY NOW STOP FILLING YOUR OWN POCKETS FROM THE POOR BUY YOUR OWN BUILDINGS
March 9, 2011, 1:34 pm

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