Bloomy moves ahead with funding for Vito’s ‘fraud’ nonprofit

Vito’s ‘Money Honeys’ get big salaries — subsidized by you
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

The city is moving to reverse an earlier decision to halt more than $100 million worth of health care service contracts to a Bushwick-based nonprofit that is the subject of two federal investigations and the city’s own fraud probe.

The Human Resources Administration indicated that it would continue funding two new contracts to the homecare division of the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council this week, providing $135 million in contracts for home attendant services in Brooklyn and Queens.

Mayor Bloomberg justified the new contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick by saying that the nonprofit is providing essential services.

“There is no other organization at the moment capable of providing the services to the community that really needs it,” said Bloomberg. “Nobody with the scale and the experience, and [Department of Investigation commissioner Rose Gill Hearn] said in terms of that, they’re doing a good job.”

Last month, the city delayed pending contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick in light of a city investigation that found fraudulent billing for nonexistent programs and clueless board members who approved huge raises for the nonprofit’s top executives.

The state then announced that it would halt all new and existing contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick amid two federal investigations, as the attorney general’s office conducts a thorough review of its most recently submitted audit.

The nonprofit has also drawn scrutiny for its workers’ role in allegedly encouraging voters to put the lever or fill in their ballot bubbles for the charity’s founder, Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is also the Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman.

The homecare council’s executive director, Christiana Fisher, has also come under fire for collecting $685,975 in salary and benefits for 17-1/2 hours a week, according to Ridgewood Bushwick’s 2009 tax filings.

But Fisher likely earned even more than that, working an additional 40 hours a week as executive director of the nonprofit’s homecare council division. Those figures were not released in the most recent filing, though 2008 filings showed that Fisher earned $89,719 in salary as homecare’s executive director.

The city is still delaying all other new contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick, except for the homecare contracts, just as the state is continuing to hold about $75 million worth of contracts pending the state attorney general’s review.

Fisher did not return calls for comment, but Tom Becker, a spokesman for Ridgewood Bushwick, said that he was “pleased that the city has given high marks to our performance, and we look forward to continuing to provide this vital service to elderly Brooklyn and Queens residents.”

The city’s move to continue homecare funding drew protests from health care professionals and community activists.

“We don’t need political bosses deciding our future, and the city should stop aiding and abetting them,” said Esteban Duran, a member of Community Board 1 who lost to Lopez for a district leader race this fall. “The profession of home-health care aides is a noble one and it’s a shame that the aides at Ridgewood Bushwick are being used to do Assemblyman Lopez’s political bidding.”

Elaine Boardman of the Jewish Association for Services of the Aged said she was outraged that the city would continue to support Ridgewood Bushwick in light of the ongoing investigations.

“Some consideration should be given in awarding contracts,” said Boardman. “The process to me seems flawed. If the Human Resources Administration wants to have us take over contracts, they could do it.”

But mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti pointed out that Ridgewood Bushwick has made some changes since the city investigation.

“The city developed a correction action plan for Ridgewood Bushwick, and they have received great marks for the services they provided,” she said.