Piggy Banks and Politics

By Gabe Pressman
|  Monday, Sep 20, 2010  |  Updated 6:15 PM EDT
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Piggy Banks and Politics

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Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. was found guilty of gender discrimination and is required to pay millions in damages.

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The epidemic of legislators using non-profit agencies as personal piggy banks is not over.

As the Daily News discovered, the Brooklyn Democratic boss, Vito Lopez, founded a non-profit agency meant to serve the poor -- and the Department of Investigation discovered $340,000 in phony claims submitted to the city by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council and its affiliates.

"A lack of oversight and internal controls enabled the fraudulent schemes to occur unnoticed and unchecked," the report charges. "There was insufficient fiscal or management oversight."

"Fraudulent" is a loaded word. It has to make taxpayers wince. It’s our money that is being plundered.

According to the report, Lopez has been kind to friends and relatives. Like his girlfriend who has served as the group’s housing director, and received more than $300,000 in a 12-month period in 2008-9. An aide to Lopez says he has nothing to do with the Ridgewood Bushwick group now but Lopez still manages to get state funds for the agency. The non-profit’s executive director gets $659,591 a year.

Lopez founded Ridgewood Bushwick in 1973. It has flourished in poor neighborhoods on the Brooklyn-Queens border and gets more than $75 million in city contracts.

Another star in the firmament of Albany scandal is Pedro Espada Jr., the State Senate Majority Leader. He was defeated in the Democratic primary by Gustavo Rivera, who said Espada symbolized Albany dysfunction, cynicism and corruption. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic candidate for governor, has filed a civil suit charging Espada and others of siphoning $14 million from a group of non-profit health care clinics.

If all the charges prove true, it shows that certain politicians when they get power, abuse it with a vengeance. It seems particularly offensive that money and services intended to benefit the poor, are misused.

It’s a cynical game. Cuomo said Espada used his network of nonprofit health care clinics for meals, vacations and campaign expenses. It was, said Cuomo, Espada’s "personal piggy bank"- used for such things as $20,000 worth of takeout sushi and $50,000 to maintain a Bronx apartment.

Espada also has a severance package of $9 million that would, if paid out, bankrupt the clinics.

Allegedly, Espada was able to divert funds from the Comprehensive Community Development Corporation by loading its board with relatives and Senate employees. The 19-member board, according to Cuomo, voted yes on millions in improper contracts and expenditures.

In the history of New York City, going back to the Tweed Ring and further, the Espada and Lopez stories seem to fit right in. Power corrupts -- and the pattern of such misconduct endures generation after generation.

Only the faces change, not the desire to make a buck at the expense of the citizens of New York.

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