Judge Orders Homeless Organization to Disband

Forbids founder and director from non-profit work

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images/Spencer Platt
    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 21: James Coble, who was homeless and now works with a homeless program, collects donations October 21, 2009 in New York City. In a recently released report by the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless it was revealed that the numbers of homeless people using New York City shelters each night has reached an all time high. Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office eight years ago there has been a 45 percent increase in shelter use with over 39,000 homeless people, including 10,000 homeless families, checking in to city shelters every evening. The group also said that 2009 has turned out to be "the worst on record for New York City homelessness since the Great Depression. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

    Everyone has seen the familiar red tablecloth and empty water jug that was the staple of the United Homeless Organization.

    The group has been in existence for decades, but now Manhattan Judge Barbara R. Kapnick disbanded the organization.

    The ruling made June 18, was filed with the court today. The order shuttered the non-profit operation and barred foundation founder Stephen Riley and director Myra Walker from ever working in a non-profit capacity ever again.

    “The Court’s judgment will permanently prevent UHO, Riley and Walker from exploiting the trust and good will of New Yorkers and visitors to New York City,” said Attorney Andrew General Cuomo.

    Cuomo filed a lawsuit against the organization in November 2009. The suit alleged that Riley and Walker used the organization to defraud the public into donating cash to fund services for the homeless, when in fact it was used for personal expenses.

    The attorney generals suit claimed table workers paid Riley and Walker a fixed daily fee for the right to use the UHO tables, jugs, and aprons. After paying the fee, the workers would pocket any daily cash donations they received.

    Riley and Walker used the fees collected from workers for their own living and travel expenses, all while claiming in annual reports to the Attorney General’s office that they received no income from UHO. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that Riley misappropriated UHO assets, including four UHO vehicles that he transferred to his own name.

    “This organization’s bad behavior should not undermine the public’s willingness to donate to legitimate charities,” said Cuomo.

    The evidence in the case allowed Attorney General Cuomo to obtain a preliminary injunction, which required the organization and its management to immediately halt all charitable solicitations from the public. The injunction also froze UHO’s assets, including bank accounts and vehicles.

    However, some table workers were still spotted soliciting donations from the public. The attorney general’s office is monitoring the newly formed charities that have sprung up to take its place.

    Cuomo emphasized, “This case should remind people that it is important to take the time to understand the organization to which they are contributing and what is done with the money.”

    A hearing is scheduled to assess the exact amount of damages and restitution that the defendants may be ordered to pay and to oversee the dissolution of UHO.