2010-03-05 / Top Stories

‘Where’s The Money? That’s A Good Question’

Meeks Denies Any Wrongdoing In Aqueduct, Non-Profit Investigations
By Howard Schwach

In the wake of accusations of wrongdoing in connection with the Aqueduct Racino deal and a non-profit with missing money, Congressman Gregory Meeks agreed to a telephone interview with The Wave last week to address those accusations.

The federal investigation into the activities of Meeks and State Senator Malcolm Smith widens every week as new revelations pop up in the newspapers and on television. Just this week, the New York Post reported that the New Direction Local Development Corporation, a non-profit set up by the two legislators, took in more than $600,000 over seven years, but spent less than $200,000, and the great majority of that money was spent on unnamed consultants, entertaining and office expenses, even though the non-profit’s office was listed as the law office of an associate of the two men.

According to the Post report, Cynthia Allen, a former Bronx assistant district attorney, earned more than $95,000 a year as president of New Direction in 2001 and 2002.

During that time, records show, the group gave away only $195, spending large sums on meetings, legal fees and office expenses.

The Post report says that the legal fees and office expenses went to Joan Flowers, a lawyer and former campaign treasurer for both Meeks and Smith.

In 2005, $37,925 was spent on office supplies, even though Flowers’ law office shared space with New Direction.

Smith later appointed Flowers to a $145,000 Senate job after he was elected minority leader.

Over the six years, “independent contractors,” were paid nearly $98,000 by New Direction, although available records do not detail who those contractors were.

After Hurricane Katrina savaged the New Orleans (Louisiana) area, New Direction set up a charitable organization called NOAH-F, which was to help Katrina victims who fled to the New York City area.

Records show that of the $31,000 collected, less than $10,000 was disbursed.

Where did the remainder of the money from New Direction and NOAH-F go?

Meeks told The Wave that he doesn’t have the slightest idea.

“That’s a good question,” Meeks said when asked by a Wave reporter to account for the missing money. “I don’t know. I didn’t have anything to do with the money. My role was working along with the community to create [New Direction and NOAH-F] and to provide transparency for the organizations. I insisted on separate bank accounts and separate banks just to keep the money separated, and I wanted it all to go where it was supposed to go.”

“I was never involved in the day to day operations,” Meeks added. “It’s shocking to me that everybody who is a signatory on the accounts says now that they did not know where the money went.”

A number of local organizations, including the Rosedale Jets Football Association and the Eastern Queens Alliance, an environmental group, were promised a part of the $250,000 that New Direction got from an airport developer as part of a deal to allow the developer to build a cargo facility on Rockaway Turnpike.

Neither of those organizations got the promised money, the Post report says.

Both Meeks and Smith told the Post that they had nothing to do with the money, although they started the nonprofit and staffed its board of directors with their own workers and associates.

Smith has also said that he had nothing to do with the day to day operations of the non-profit and that he had no idea where the money went.

Neither Smith nor Meeks would comment specifically on the federal probe.

Meeks did argue that his role in the Aqueduct decision was a responsible one.

“I did not have anything to do with the final decision,” he said, adding that Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s bid was “community friendly” and that it would provide jobs for locals.

“This was not unseemly,” he said. “Their plan for community development was the best, and you can’t beat the expertise of Reverend [Floyd} Flake when it comes to community development.

It makes sense to have a community expert involved in the plan. It should not be frowned upon. It should be applauded.”

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