Trial of alleged Ridgewood Bushwick fraudster begins today

A woman whose alleged theft earlier this year catalyzed a deluge of investigations into a politically connected Bushwick-based nonprofit is facing four years in prison as her trial begins today.

Tyess Crespo, an employee of the scandal-tarred Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, will face charges of attempted grand larceny in criminal court — to date the only arrest of a Ridgewood Bushwick employee on fraud charges in a widening government investigation into the nonprofit’s finances.

In April, Crespo was arrested for attempting to steal $4,080 in reimbursements after city investigators alleged that she submitted fake attendance sheets for several “self-defense” workshops that never actually happened at the nonprofit, founded decades ago by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D–Bushwick), who remains closely allied with its leadership.

Crespo has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

A Ridgewood Bushwick spokesman declined to comment on the Crespo case, but nonprofit staffers have privately called Crespo’s actions an isolated incident.

That said, her alleged fraud triggered a larger probe into Ridgewood Bushwick’s accounting practices, which led to a July report by the Department of Investigation in July that detailed additional phantom youth programs, lax oversight by Ridgewood Bushwick executives, and a oblivious board of directors that rubber-stamped whatever was put in front of them.

In the wake of the report, the city and state froze all pending Ridgewood Bushwick contracts for further review. Some money was released after Ridgewood Bushwick agreed to sweeping reforms. And the city also funded $100 million worth of homecare contracts in October and another $12.8 million in senior services contracts a week ago despite the ongoing investigations.

But Crespo’s court case continues.

Crespo will be prosecuted by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan this week, a special prosecutor brought in when Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes stepped down from the case due to his close relationship with Lopez, who founded the nonprofit where Crespo worked.

Lopez was not the subject of the city’s inquiry, nor is he expected to be called as a witness, but sources confirmed that Donovan will expand his inquiry to include the nonprofit’s executives and perhaps Lopez himself.

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