2010-03-26 / Top Stories

Meeks On The Hot Seat

Several Probes Spread
By Howard Schwach

Congressman Meeks Congressman Meeks The probes into the actions of Congressman Gregory Meeks spread recently with a short appearance on NY1 New two weeks ago and a New York Times expose last weekend.

The New York Times article, written by Eric Lipton and Ray Hernandez charges that, although Meeks says that he has no personal wealth, “he lives a life worthy of a jet-setter,”, travelling to luxury hotels, driving a Lexus (paid for with public money), frequents expensive restaurants in Washington, D.C. and Manhattan and lives in a $1 million home built for him by a local developer who also happens to be a campaign contributor.

Meeks told the New York Times reporters that his high-living and fundraising outside his district is necessary.

“I do fundraisers where the people with money are,” he said. “I am not going to raise the money in my district that I need to be a player here in Washington.”

Meeks at a union rally earlier this year Meeks at a union rally earlier this year Meeks added that he broke no campaign finance laws.

In early 2008, however, records show that Meeks agreed to pay fines totaling $63,000 after the Federal Election Committee found that in 2003 and 2004 he used campaign funds for personal expenses, including $6,200 on a personal trainer and a $9,800 lease for a vehicle that Meeks could not prove was used for campaign work.

Meeks’ home in St. Albans was reportedly built for him by a real estate developer. Meeks and his wife paid $830,000 for the “imposing twostory home” that was worth more than $1 million when he bought it, according to the Times story.

Meeks says that he sold his Far Rockaway home and bought the St. Alban’s home with the proceeds and a mortgage.

The developer, records show, has also donated thousands of dollars in campaign funds to Meeks’ campaigns.

Meeks pulled out all the stops on the NY1 show, continually telling reporter Michael Scotto that he is a “Member of Congress,” as if that would somehow ameliorate the missing money from the non-profit New Direction Local Development Corporation and its spin-off fund NOAH-F.

“I am not a founder of New Direction,” Meeks nearly yelled at Scotto. “I am a congressman and I never had any fiduciary responsibility over the fund.”

When asked why he and State Senator Malcolm Smith were featured prominently on New Direction’s website as “founders,” and why he and Smith funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the organization, Meeks said, “”I am a member of Congress, that’s what I am. I lend my name to community organizations, but I have no responsibility for those organizations or their activities. I never earmarked any money for [New Direction] or NOAH-F,” which Meeks described as a “fund set up by New Direction to help Katrina victims.”

Records show that $31,000 was collected by NOAH-F, but that less than $2,000 was distributed.

“I had people there helping people from Katrina,” Meeks told Scotto.

“How many, who were they?” Scotto asked.

“A number of individuals,” Meeks answered. “I am very proud of what my office did.”

Meeks said that he has demanded answers from those responsible for disbursing the NOAH-F funds, although he declined to name them.

“You know the people who run NOAH,” Scotto said, “why don’t you just ask them for an accounting?”

“I have, and I have demanded answers,” he said. “I have no connection with either New Direction or with NOAH-F. All I know is what I read in the newspapers. I am a member of Congress.”

Despite Meeks’ protestations that he and Smith had nothing to do with New Direction, records show that 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 New York Post reported 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.

Tax records show that hundreds of thousands of dollars were provided by Meeks and Smith for New Direction, including $250,000 from an airport developer who built a massive warehouse complex on Rockaway Turnpike across from the JFK Airport.

The money was to be used in Rockaway for job development and sports, but only about $100,000 was actually spent.

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged 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.

At the same time, Meeks has earmarked $189,000 in the 2010 federal budget for the When It’s Real, It’s Forever Foundation, founded by Nicole Paultre-Bell and Sean Bell’s father. Bell was shot and killed by undercover police officers in November of 2006.

The officers involved were tried and found not guilty of all charges.

Records show that Smith has also funneled $75,000 to the group.

Online records show that the organization’s purpose is to provide Far Rockaway with social and educational programs, including sports and dance programs.

Last year, Paultre-Bell sponsored a basketball tournament in Sean Bell’s name.

Meeks said that the earmarked money, which has yet to be paid, would go to mentor at-risk youth and to start a civic group in Far Rockaway that would “foster neighborhood pride.”

The involvement of Meeks and Smith with both New Direction and NOAH-F is under investigation by state and federal agencies.

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