City Council Continues to Fund Vito Lopez’s Old Nonprofit

A nonprofit tied to the disgraced pol got plenty of cash in the new city budget.

Vito Lopez. (Art by Brian Taylor)
Vito Lopez. (Art by Brian Taylor/New York Observer)

Vito Lopez may be long gone, but his pet nonprofit is alive and kicking.

The City Council funneled more than a half million dollars to the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a crucial but controversial housing and family services nonprofit in Brooklyn, according to budget documents released this afternoon.

$124,730, designated in the city budget for social adult day care and anti-eviction services, was allocated to the organization, which Mr. Lopez, a former assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic Party boss, founded in 1973. Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito allocated another $250,000 for a “legal assistance program for tenants facing homelessness due to substandard housing conditions, evictions, and/or issues related to neighborhood gentrification.”

Brooklyn Democrats Stephen Levin and Rafael Espinal, who both represent districts served by Ridgewood Bushwick, used some of their member item cash to prop up the nonprofit.

Mr. Levin, who once served as Mr. Lopez’s chief of staff, dispensed $7,000 to the nonprofit. Mr. Espinal, a one-time Lopez ally, was far more generous: of the $400,000 in base discretionary funding he was allotted, he showered $172,525 on Ridgewood Bushwick, which primarily serves his Bushwick-based district.

A 2010 Department of Investigations probe found that the organization had received funding for services it did not provide, and that it had falsified documents to make it appear the programs were in place. The investigation also found that seven of the group’s nine board members lacked expertise at running a nonprofit and basic knowledge of how Ridgewood Bushwick operated.

Salaries for administrators at the group–many linked to Mr. Lopez–have often hit six figures. Ridgewood Bushwick’s former director, Christiana Fisher, pled guilty in 2012 to submitting fraudulent paperwork to a grand jury explaining why her yearly pay rate had leaped from $235,135 to $659,591.

Mr. Lopez, at one time one of the most powerful Democrats in the Assembly, was forced to resign his seat in 2013 after he was accused of sexually harassing staffers. Despite his sex scandal and the DOI probe, Ridgewood Bushwick remains a cherished nonprofit in northern Brooklyn.

“They provide vital services to community and are under new leadership,” said a source close to Ms. Mark-Viverito.

Mr. Espinal and Mr. Levin enthusiastically defended Ridgewood Bushwick.

“Ridgewood Bushwick is the largest social service provider in Bushwick,” Mr. Espinal said. “They’re the key provider of legal services and affordable housing to individuals being pushed out of Bushwick because of gentrification.”

“They do tremendous work,” he added. “Denying them funds would have a negative impact on my most vulnerable constituents.”

Mr. Levin said he allocated $7,000 for a senior citizens picnic at Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island.

“The seniors love this annual event and have assured me many times that they would be heartbroken if they were not able to attend,” he said.

City Council Continues to Fund Vito Lopez’s Old Nonprofit