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Vito’s charity could lose big bucks • Brooklyn Paper

Vito’s charity could lose big bucks

Pointed barbs: Assemblyman Vito Lopez repeatedly interrupted a community meeting this week to blast the media and his “enemies.”
Community Newspaper Group / Aaron Short

BY AARON SHORT

Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s favorite charity — already being investigated by federal officials for fraud — could lose more than half-a-million dollars in city funding if it doesn’t turn over its books to the state this week.

An official with the state’s Charities Bureau said the Bushwick company had not disclosed its financial records — as all charities are required to do by state law — this year, and has missed two extensions given to it since November of 2010.

The paperwork snafu puts $687,000, about three percent of its budget, that Ridgewood Bushwick is set to receive from the City Council on hold — jeopardizing dozens of senior events, youth programs and tenant legal services for residents next year.

But an attorney for the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a housing and social-services provider founded by the Brooklyn Democratic Party boss 30 years ago, said that the organization filed all its required forms and is “in compliance” with the Attorney General’s office as of June 30.

Lopez did not return a call for comment.

Mayor Bloomberg told the Daily News, which first reported Ridgewood Bushwick’s frozen assets, that the group could not collect the council cash until it is in good standing with the city and the state.

This year, the Council gave $607,000 in member items, including $300,000 from the Brooklyn delegation for a legal assistance program, $52,000 from Councilmembers Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) and Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint) to remove lead paint from old houses, and $50,000 from Councilman Erik Dilan (D–Bushwick) for its annual senior picnic in Sunken Meadows State Park on Long Island, according to the council’s budget.

Dilan believes funding will come soon.

“Should Ridgewood Bushwick file the forms, which I expect them to, they’ll be eligible for funding,” said Dilan.

But critics say that the city should stop funding Ridgewood Bushwick.

“Despite a federal investigation and clear evidence of impropriety, council members continue to bend over backward to kiss Vito’s ring,” said Democratic District Leader Lincoln Restler. “The Council members are taking advantage of a troubled member item process to lavishly fund the Boss’ pet agency.”

It’s not the first time Ridgewood Bushwick has had its funds held back.

Former Gov. David Paterson put $25 million worth of contracts on hold last September due to two government investigations probing the relationship between Lopez, Ridgewood Bushwick, and city and state contracts.

Paterson later released the money even though the investigations continued.

A city investigation found that a Ridgewood Bushwick employee falsified attendance sheets for a nonexistent program, defrauding the city several thousand dollars. She was fired by the agency and later pled guilty.

And the investigation revealed that the charity’s elderly board members and its chief financial officer had no idea what they were doing and could not identify its leaders.

The city forced Ridgewood Bushwick to shake up its board, demote its financial director and complete an internal audit — which the agency started to do.

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