By MICHAEL BENJAMIN
Last Updated:12:43 AM, October 19, 2011
Posted:10:24 PM, October 18, 2011
News that the state attorney general is investigating allegations of financial improprieties at Nos Quedamos/We Stay, Inc., a Bronx-based nonprofit affordable-housing developer, comes as another staggering below-the-belt punch to residents of the South Bronx, where poverty, homelessness and unemployment have risen to unprecedented levels since the onset of the Great Recession.
The allegations against the agency’s former executive director, Yolanda Gonzalez, are all too familiar: She’s accused of using the agency as a personal ATM, hiring relatives and other financial wrongdoing.
This is a sad case of the apple “falling far from the tree”: Gonzalez is the daughter of the agency’s beloved founder, Yolanda Garcia, and took over shortly after Yolanda’s untimely death in 2005.
Nos Quedamos appears to be the latest in a long string of large nonprofits looted by their leaders. Decades ago, Ed Koch coined the phrase “poverty pimps” to describe these looters, boodlers, grifters, hustlers and sociopaths who feed at the antipoverty-funding trough.
Some recent grim news on this front:
* The Manhattan DA this month filed charges against the finance director of the Girls Scouts Council of Greater New York, who allegedly literally stole from the cookie jar to finance jewelry, groceries, cosmetic surgery and other luxury purchases.
* Former state Sen. Pedro Espada stands accused of myriad financial and fiduciary improprieties involving the Soundview Health Center in The Bronx.
* In June, Kelli Conlin, former ally of Mayor Bloomberg and head of NARAL Pro-Choice NY, pleaded guilty to charges of felony financial misconduct five months after abruptly resigning her post.
Whether you call it crony capitalism, crony welfarism or just plain thievery, this is a cancer upon our city. Before considering a radical “kleptoectomy,” I propose that every nonprofit in our city make public its executive-compensation, administrative-budget and direct-services expenditures. We need to put the unindicted bad actors on notice and hold up the good nonprofit leaders as exemplars.
Gov. Cuomo’s three-month-old statewide probe of executive pay and compensation packages at state-supported nonprofit agencies must become a wider-ranging review going beyond an examination of compensation. The ratio of executive pay to the lowest-paid staffer and the ratio of administrative salaries to direct services rendered must also be scrutinized. All expenditures incurred and paid with public funds must be thoroughly examined.
Mayor Bloomberg should slap a similar order on the nonprofits that feed off the city teat.
By starting his crackdown with HELP-USA, a nonprofit he founded, Cuomo has signaled that there are neither sacred cows nor political shelter from the coming storm. As attorney general, Cuomo did not shy away from going after the powerful and the connected. Thus far, in his freshman season, he has had the people at his back.
Whether we identify with the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, New Yorkers are angry because the institutions we rely upon — banks and financial firms, government, nonprofits — have broken faith with us.
I am angry at Gonzalez not only because of the allegations leveled against her but because she broke faith with her mother’s legacy, the elected officials who funded and supported Nos Quedamos and the Bronx families who benefited from the housing opportunities it provided.
We must rid our city and state of the poverty pimps, misery vampires and crony capitalists who abuse trusted institutions to prey upon the “little guy.” To them, we say: “¡Basta ya!” (Enough!)