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NYC Finally Goes After Street Scammers

From the New York Post:

Homeless beggar jars a sham: AG

By MELISSA KLEIN, KEVIN FASICK and CHUCK BENNETT

November 24, 2009

Just in time for the holidays, state authorities are going for the jug-ular — seeking to banish forever the panhandling pests who clog Manhattan’s busiest corners with folding tables and plastic water bottles.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed suit yesterday, charging the United Homeless Organization is a scam run by con artists who pocket most of the change they collect — hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The beggars — most of whom claim to be street people — say that the money tossed into their jugs goes to the homeless. And it does, the suit says. They just don’t bother to say they’re talking about themselves.

UHO founder Stephen Riley and director Myra Walker take a big cut of the money to fund personal shopping sprees at the GameStop, Home Shopping Network, Bed Bath & Beyond and P.C. Richard, as well as their monthly cable bills, legal papers charge.

Riley, a beefy 60-year-old, shamelessly used the donated dollars — which are supposed to be used to "feed the homeless" — to pay his Weight Watchers bills.

The lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, seeks a temporary injunction to shut down the UHO, then permanently disband it and keep Riley and Walker from ever taking part in charitable causes.

The organization, run out of Walker’s Bronx apartment, did not return a call for comment.

The scam was strikingly simple, Cuomo said.

Riley, who founded the UHO in 1985 and got tax-exempt status for it eight years later, charges a flat-rate $15 to $25 to rent a table and empty water jug for a four-hour shift.

"In exchange for paying a fee to Riley, UHO workers received tables and UHO-branded materials, including a tablecloth, apron and plastic jug, and the right to claim membership in UHO," the suit charged.

They also get a copy of UHO’s New York state incorporation receipt they can use to convince suspicious New Yorkers and trusting tourists that they’re legit.

After deducting the "rent," the table worker keeps all the donations — up to $80 a shift during peak season.

And with 50 tables around Manhattan — each operating for two to three shifts seven days a week — Riley and Walker could have collected well over $100,000 in fees a year, officials estimate.

"Riley and Walker treated the ‘fees’ as their personal kitty, dipping into them whenever they choose," the suit says.

Cuomo added, "Riley and Walker have co-opted a tax-exempt, charitable corporate structure for their own benefit."

Between 2007 and 2008, Riley withdrew $85,000 in cash from a UHO account he allegedly used as his personal piggy bank.

Undercover investigators recorded table workers saying the donated change would help fund soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters and detox centers, the suit said.

"The money goes to the homeless," claimed Rodney Borders, a self-described UHO "manager" who said he’s been panhandling with the group for 4½ years.

When pressed, Borders, who was collecting from commuters at Penn Station, admitted, "We don’t own any shelters or soup kitchens. The money provides us with everyday money."

By the way, according to the New York Times (who have finally deigned to weigh in), the “beefy” Stephen Riley has been getting Social Security disability payments for years, in addition to ‘housing assistance’ and other undoubtedly other welfare benefits.

As the article notes, this United Homeless Organization scam was operated as a 501c3 tax exempt ‘charity.’

This is UHO’s “Mission Statement,” according to the charity reference site Guidestar:

UHO members understand that people in our society find themselves in the unfortunate situation of living on the street for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond their control. UHO takes a unique and progressive viewpoint that those best able and suited to help many of these individuals homeless and previously homeless people. themselves.

This mission is accomplished by UHO allowing certain people within the homeless community to join the organization which provides them with a network of support and grant these individuals within the network member status so long as certain criteria are met.

Through this network, UHO is able to provide its members with the confidence and resources necessary to promote self-help, stability, recovery and eventually to achieve personal growth. Once this is accomplished, these members are able to reach out into the homeless community and lead others one by one through the readjustment process.

Well, they certainly have ‘helped themselves.’

Of course the real scandal here is that this scam has gone on since 1985. The police have known about it, the city fathers have known.

And yet nothing has ever been done, and untold sums have been diverted from real homeless efforts into the pockets of these con artists.

But why haven’t ‘progressives’ in New York City done anything about this obvious scam sooner? It’s gone on for nearly 25 years.

Don’t they care about the homeless?

To its credit, the New York Post has written about the UHO’s racket for several years. But they have been conspicuously alone in their efforts.

And we strongly suspect that the only reason Mr. Cuomo is acting now is because he intends to run for governor in New York next year, and he knows he needs to attract some upstate (‘conservative’) voters.

He has probably already written off the homeless vote, at least for the all-important Democrat primary, where he will oppose Mr. Paterson, who despite the city’s economic woes raised “welfare grants” 30%.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, November 25th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

7 Responses to “NYC Finally Goes After Street Scammers”

  1. Chuckk says:

    Every time some fake charity gets exposed, it hurts legitimate charities. The legit charities should be policing the “industry” since the government seems to be slow or unable to do so.

  2. Helena says:

    “Riley, who founded the UHO in 1985 and got tax-exempt status for it eight years later, charges a flat-rate $15 to $25 to rent a table and empty water jug for a four-hour shift…And with 50 tables around Manhattan — each operating for two to three shifts seven days a week — Riley and Walker could have collected well over $100,000 in fees a year, officials estimate.”

    My math shows Riley and Walker collecting WELL over $100,000 a year. Let’s be conservative with the numbers – 50 tables @ $15 x 2 shifts = $150,000

    If you figure some prime tables in high traffic neighborhoods renting 3 shifts @ $25 – well, let’s just say $150,000 MINIMUM per year went directly into Riley’s and Walker’s pockets, and probably more like $200,000. Plus Riley’s Social Security disability payments. Sweet.

  3. pagar says:

    The global warming scandal is no different. Al Gore has received millions from a fraud that has no more basis than the UHO.

    Want to see where the real scammers are. Visit the US Senate, where you can watch as Sen Reid takes $300 million of your (Taxpayer) money and gives it to a Senator to buy her vote to promote another fraud.

    I applaud the action taken to remove the criminals using the UHO to hide their crimes. But the investigation needs to go national/international. There is a whole lot of fraud going on, IMO

  4. yadayada says:

    throughout the 80’s while I was in the military the DoD had united way drives and signed up tons of service members to pledge monthly allotments to UW. I stopped giving to them when their scandal broke. it sickened me when it was revealed they used millions to buy private jets, country club memberships, florida time shares, limousines, etc. for their upper level employees. now I see my department sponsoring the same type of UW drives each year. I warn people away, even though I figure they probably aren’t doing those illigit things any more. I go with local charities now where I can see how they operate.

  5. proreason says:

    “But why haven’t ‘progressives’ in New York City done anything about this obvious scam sooner? It’s gone on for nearly 25 years. ”

    Progressives admire the scam.

    That’s how all of them make their livings.

  6. DGC says:

    “Legitimate” charities? You mean, like the United Way?

    Marsha J. Evans, President and CEO of the American Red Cross… salary for year ending 06/30/03 was $651,957 plus expenses.

    Brian Gallagher, President of the United Way receives a $375,000 base salary, plus numerous expense benefits.

    The Salvation Army’s Commissioner Todd Bassett receives a salary of only $13,000 per year (plus housing) for managing this $2 billion dollar organization.

    Let the donator beware. Also, you could ask for a receipt from your charity for tax puposes.


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