2009-03-27 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

At A Time Of Financial Crisis, Where Does The Money Go?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

It has been nearly a year since The Wave first detailed the large amount of public money that Democratic District Leader Geraldine M. Chapey takes in to run her one-van senior citizen transportation program, which is called Trinity Senior Services.

She has refused to reveal to The Wave how often the van is used or how much she charges seniors for each trip on the van.

Chapey, who recently ran for the City Council seat vacated by Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., has steadfastly refused to speak with The Wave about where the more than $1.2 million she has received in the past dozen years has been spent.

In fact, the record shows, Chapey has steadfastly refused to speak about the money, even at the community forums in which she participated prior to the election. Chapey lost the election badly, coming in a distant third in a fourhorse race, behind Eric Ulrich and Lew Simon.

Some locals say that they did not vote for her simply because she would repeat the same answer any time that a resident would ask her to reveal where the money goes.

"The city won't give me any more money until I have spent the money they already gave me," she said over and over, once telling a questioner to "sit down or get out."

The question persists, however.

How does Chapey spend the $100,000 to $150,000 she takes in each year, the great majority of it in public money?

How many times a year does she utilize the van for senior transportation and how much does she charge for each run?

When was the last time she ran an "intergenerational" program between seniors and students, as she claims in her filings? How many times over the past five years has she run such a program?

Even records obtained from city sources through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process do not shed light on those questions, because Chapey often does not complete the section that asks for a list of officers and employees and because her filings obfuscate the answers.

In 2006, for example, Chapey filed with the city a Form 990 - Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax. In addition, she signed a contract with the city's Department for the Aging.

Although both documents clearly ask for a listing of all the officers of the nonprofit and how much each earns that year, Chapey omitted putting names on either of those documents.

Chapey's service provides transportation to seniors on trips to Manhattan and other entertainment venues.

Chapey charges a small amount for each trip, and told people at one forum prior to the election that she is required to charge a fee.

For one trip to the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall, she charged $80 for tickets and transportation, advertising her trip in the St. Francis de Sales church bulletin.

Many locals join me in wondering why, therefore, Chapey needs a large infusion of public money to keep her service going.

It's instructive to take a look at her filings for one typical year.

In 2006, for example, her Form 990 shows that her non-profit's total revenue was $341,241 and that she spent $267,402.

Where did the money come from?

She says that direct public support amounted to $85,584 and that government contributions added $85,801. The remaining $173,826, the records show, came from "other revenue," which she says comes from the overpayment of payroll taxes and reimbursements received from the city for previous year's expenditures.

Chapey says that she spent the majority of the public money she gets on "program services."

She says that the program services include "Intergenerational afterschool programs for seniors and youth. The program addresses low academic achievement, limited opportunities for after-school activities and limited activities for transportation."

I have questioned many locals who work with kids, and spoken to some school officials as well. The last time anybody remembers Chapey running an intergenerational program funded solely by her organization was seven years ago.

Of course, I emailed Chapey with a list of questions on a number of occasions, and she has so far refused to answer the questions or return my calls.

Chapey lists $69,861 in salaries in her filings, but does not say who gets the money. Other expenses include $2,543 for advertisements, $5,432 for consulting, which probably means the lobbying firm she hires to address her grants with the city, and $3,965 for intergenerational events.

She lists $4,620 for postage and shipping, $25,010 for her office and $18,810 for printing and publications.

Also on the Form 990 is a place for listing gifts, grants and contributions received over a four-year period.

Chapey lists $216,682 for 2002, $97,650 for 2003, $227,674 for 2004 and $248,761 for 2005. That totals out to $790,713 for those four years, an average of more than $197,000 a year.

The great majority of that money is yours, straight out of your tax money. If you are enraged at the money paid to the AIG execs, you should be equally outraged about the way the city, now in dire financial straits, spends nearly $200,000 a year to run a one-van senior services program.

I called the State Attorney General to speak to them about Chapey, but I got little satisfaction outside the fact that she is current in her reports. Seems that the state agency charged with overseeing non-profits only gets involved when somebody blows the whistle or it is clear that too much charity money is being spent for administration.

I personally have a feeling that Andrew Cuomo, our New York State AG, is after bigger game, especially when his mother, Matilda, is on Chapey's board of directors.

When I called the city's Department for the Aging, I was told I would have to file a FOIL request. I did. Several months later, I got the contracts, but not any of the communications between Chapey and the agency.

I am still waiting, several months later. What I did get, however, just supports my belief that the money coming into Chapey's non-profit is not spent on what the city believes that it is paying for.

That belief was reinforced each time that Chapey refused to tell somebody where the money is spent.

If everything is kosher, the belief goes, why won't she speak about it? Why didn't she just say, "I get X in salary and use X for my bus and then another X for something else"? She did not.

What's really going on with Trinity Senior Services? Don't bother asking Chapey. She probably won't tell you.

In addition to the questions about her van service, Chapey, who recently ran for City Council and lost badly to both Eric Ulrich and Lew Simon, has some questions to answer about her campaign expenditures.

Chapey received $56,031 in matching funds from the city's Campaign Finance Board, second only to Ulrich, who got more than $84 thousand.

Chapey's husband, Eugene Pasternak, has the office right next to Chapey's on Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

I have been told by two of her campaign workers, who complain that they have yet to be paid by Chapey or James Woo, Chapey's campaign manager, that they worked out of the security office on a number of occasions.

For the use of her husband's office, adjacent to her own, Chapey paid Pasternak's company, Special Security, $450 a month, apparently for rent.

In addition, as advance payments to Calling Post Communications, Chapey paid her husband $755.

According to campaign records, Chapey paid Cornerstone Strategies, the company owned by Woo more than $17 thousand, although Woo reportedly told his workers that he had yet to be paid by Chapey.

One worker, who asked not to be identified, said that Woo told him that Chapey had yet to pay her bill. Neither Woo nor Chapey returned calls or emails for comment.

Will Chapey ever answer any of the questions posed in this column? If the past is any predictor of the future, she will not.

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