City Freezes Bronx Councilman's Million-Dollar Non-Profit Play
Too close for comfort?
Amid recent revelations about a secret Council slush fund and taxpayer-funded shenanigans at non-profits, the city has denied Councilman Larry Seabrook's near million-dollar request to fund a new non-profit that's located within his district headquarters.
The city system of checks and balances denied the Bronx Democrat's appropriations, freezing his Fiscal Year '08 requests of $887,244 to fund the newly founded Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce. The non-profit did not have the proper paperwork in place for the money to be released.
A divider is all that separates the commerce chamber, at 3687-B White Plains Road, from Seabrook's district headquarters at 3687-A White Plains Road.
The Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce refused repeated requests to furnish public records about its finances.
The office of United States Attorney Michael Garcia would neither confirm nor deny that Seabrook or the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce were targets of the ongoing federal investigation, said spokesman Yusill Scribner. That investigation has already snared two former aides to Brooklyn City Council Member Kendall Stewart for their roles in funneling Council cash to the Donna Reid Memorial Education Fund, and then taking that money for personal use.
Neither Seabrook nor Carl Green, director of the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce, returned repeated calls for comment. The organization also denied repeated requests to furnish public records about its financing.
Being less than a year old, the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce does not have much of a public profile, only receiving media attention for a recent press conference to discuss a program to train minority applicants to become truck drivers. A group flyer announces the “Jobs to Build on Initiative,” jointly sponsored by Seabrook, that “offers free training and employment services to low skilled, unemployed or under employed individuals.”
According to the New York State Department of State, the Bronx African-American Chamber of Commerce was founded on May 2, 2007 — just weeks before the deadline for council members to submit requests for the FY2008 budget. The group incorporated using the Bronx address of 1530 East 222nd Street, but now shares Seabrook's office.
Multiple attempts, by both phone and email, to obtain the organizations tax records were unsuccessful. The chamber also failed to produce a tax return when asked in-person at the group’s headquarters. The two groups share the same doorbell and front door, and the office of the chamber of commerce is nothing more than a desk within the same room, separated by a divider. The woman who answered the door at the organization could not provide a business card either for the chamber or for Green.
Tax returns for non-profit groups can also be obtained through the Attorney General’s bureau of charities, but a spokesperson for AG Andrew Cuomo, said the non-profit was not registered with his office. He said this could be because the chamber is new or because it's not required to register, which many other chambers of commerce are not.
In addition to Seabrook's request of $887,244, the entire Bronx council delegation requested an additional $25,000 for the group, bringing the total to $912,244, all of which was held back by the agencies charged with administering the grants.
Of the six member item grants allocated to the Chamber of Commerce, three are administered by the Department of Youth and Community Development for immigrant services, adult literacy, and “to provide funding support for youth programs and small businesses.” Through the Department of Small Business Services, the Chamber of Commerce was scheduled to receive its largest grant, $335,000, to do “commercial revitalization work” as well as two others for Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises, and financial literacy.
Spokespersons for both agencies declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations. But one City official, who requested anonymity, said that neither agency ever issued the funds because the chamber failed to pass a VENDEX questionnaire, something required for any group doing business with the City. To fulfill a VENDEX integrity check, organizations must submit tax forms, proof of insurance and other corporate documents outlining the mission of the group. The Chamber of Commerce, said the official, did not do that.
Seabrook also requested funding for another organization with a checkered past, the Northeast Bronx Redevelopment Corporation, which also uses the address of 1530 East 222nd Street, where the chamber was initially incorporated. In 2006, the City revoked money allocated to the group to construct a hip-hop museum in The Bronx after an audit by small business services uncovered “unsatisfactory performance,” causing the group to be “red-flagged.”