More Vito problems — two fed probes and more city scrutiny

Vito’s power plays cross the line
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

The bad news for embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez continued yesterday as a new report revealed that two federal offices are investigating him and his Bushwick-based nonprofit, the state Attorney General is also eyeing a probe, and state and city officials ramped up pledges to increase oversight of the charity — and its $100 million in government contracts.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced on Thursday that his office has “placed an additional layer of review on all contracts and payments” to the nonprofit Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, which Lopez founded before he became an assemblyman in 1984.

And Attorney General Andrew Cuomo may be on the verge of launching his own investigation into Ridgewood Bushwick.

Sources told the Daily News that Cuomo’s office is carefully reviewing the nonprofit’s pending contracts with the city and state, as well as a new audit submitted by Ridgewood Bushwick that its top earning executives, Lopez’s girlfriend and campaign treasurer, earned a combined $40,000 more in “deferred compensation” on top of their enormously high salaries.

The city’s $75 million in funding to the nonprofit for housing, senior and youth services is not expected to be affected by the review, but the state’s $25 million in contracts with Ridgewood Bushwick could be delayed.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bloomberg said funding to the nonprofit would not be frozen, but the city is waiting for the attorney general to announce his findings before proceeding with its contracts to Ridgewood Bushwick.

Calls to the state attorney general’s office were not returned.

Earlier in the hectic week of bad news for Lopez, the New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in both Manhattan and Brooklyn have launched separate probes into Lopez and his links to Ridgewood Bushwick and city real-estate developers.

One investigation, led by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, continues the work of a public corruption case that ensnared former Queens Assemblymen Brian McLaughlin and Anthony Seminerio two years ago.

The second, and more recent inquiry is led by Brooklyn prosecutors and involves the Department of Labor’s labor racketeering division, well known for prosecuting organized crime.

Meanwhile, the Bloomberg Administration vowed to inspect all city contracts awarded to Ridgewood Bushwick in the past year.

This all comes on the heels of last week’s revelations that the city Department of Investigation found egregious fraud at the nonprofit, including bad record keeping, board members who had no clue about how the organization was run, services that the city funded yet were never actually provided, and huge salaries for Lopez’s girlfriend and his campaign treasurer at Ridgewood Bushwick.

In addition, Lopez was criticized last month for calling a city official to demand that he provide evidence in an election case. And this week, a Ridgewood Bushwick building superintendent came forward to say that he was fired for supporting a political rival during last year’s contentious city council campaign.

Mayor Bloomberg had stood by Lopez last week as the first revelations came out about his charity, but yesterday could not resist slamming Lopez for gloating about his re-election as the head of the Democratic Party on Monday night.

“I’m not in the business of congratulating people in their political machine kinds of things,” said Bloomberg at a City Hall press conference. “If that’s what the public wants, or the Democratic Party wants, they’ve got a right to elect him.”

Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan, a Republican candidate for state attorney general, has promised to conduct a thorough investigation of his own into Ridgewood Bushwick and Lopez’s political dealings.

Donovan already has a head start, taking over a fraud case involving a former Ridgewood Bushwick employee, Tyess Crespo, after Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes removed himself of the case because of his close relationship with Lopez.

When asked why he handed the case to a special prosecutor, Hynes declined to comment.

Residents and community leaders in Bushwick are increasingly nervous about the widening investigations and whether Ridgewood Bushwick’s ability to provide services for thousands of North Brooklyn residents would be hindered as a result.

“A lot of people who live in this community work there not to mention the thousands of people who receive services here,” said Community Board 4 District Manager Nadine Whitted. “That’s something to be concerned about, to be sure.”