MAKING IT RAIN: Question-able beneficiaries of a community fund created in the deal for the new Yankee Stadium include the formerly for-profit El Maestro gym (pictured) and the apparel seller ALFRBA, run by Barbara Gibson - (below) according to the New York Post. The administers of the fund refused to make available the 2010 and 2011 annual reports.
(Photos: Angel Chevrestt)
Even though at least one aspect of the allocation of these funds has been a issue - and has been widely reported - Yankee spokesperson (former NYPD DCPI head flack) Alice T. McGillion told the Post, “This is the first we are hearing of a problem in the allocation of money from the fund. We would be extremely disappointed if that were the case."
The Community Benefits Program (CBP), a contract between the team and Bronx elected officials - (The pact couldn’t be called a Community Benefits Agreement because the community did not participate in its formation) - was established in an effort to blunt strong opposition to the new stadium project. Opposition included the seizing of 25.3 acres of historic public parkland among other impacts to the community. The annual $ 800,000 in payments by the New York Yankees, athletic equipment, free Yankee tickets, and merchandise to various Bronx non-profits was immediately labeled a "slush fund" by local community members.
The charity was supposed to be established, "upon the commencement of the construction of the new Yankee Stadium." The construction began in August 2006. However more than a year after the CBP was supposed to take effect, NYC Park Advocates (NYCPA) discovered that none of the money had been distributed, the charity had not been registered, and the group responsible for administering the fund had even never met. In an auspicious start, the original application was rejected by the IRS because lawyer Michael Drezin, who is organizing the fund, mistakenly filed for non-profit status instead of the private foundation status required when funding comes from one source.
To make worse the elected officials including Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión made sure that not one penny of the money had to be spent anywhere near the affected community.
"Under the team's proposal, the city would build the new parks at an estimated cost of $50 million, with the team providing an annual comprehensive maintenance fund." - NY Times, Sept 5, 2004.
The comprehensive maintenance fund long promised for the replacement parks never materialized. As part of the original deal, the Yankees had agreed to provide dedicated maintenance funds annually through 2046 to support the new parks being built as part of the stadium project. Only $100,000, however, made it into the final draft of the Community Benefits Program. By the time the agreement was hastily signed on the day of the City Council vote, the politicians had removed all of the money earmarked for the parks.
Remarkably these funds, as small as they were, represented the only money specifically earmarked for the impacted area, and the only money dedicated to the maintenance of these historically deprived South Bronx parks. This is especially ironic considering the entire deal was made possible only through the destruction of the parkland. The final agreement removed the $100,000 earmarked for the new parks and merged it with a $700,000 fund that the Bronx elected officials had set up to dole out to non-profit groups borough-wide.
According to the Bronx borough president's office, the new parks to be built around Yankee Stadium didn't need the dedicated maintenance dollars set aside by the team because parks upkeep is "already getting done" by the city.
In September, Bronx Borough president Adolfo Carrión, Jr. told reporter that the money originally allocated in the CBP for park maintenance would be better spent going to
Now thanks to Bronx elected officials, the funding long promised for maintenance of the replacement parks has been diverted, and all money in the Community Benefits Program can be spent in any part of the Bronx. - Geoffrey Croft
The nonprofit in charge of doling out nearly $1 million a year in New York Yankee cash to Bronx charities is throwing it away on shady organizations, for-profit businesses and barely effective but politically connected community groups, a New York Post investigation found.
The questionable groups supported by the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund included:
Apparel seller ALFRBA, run by Barbara Gibson received $ 3,000 in 2008 and '09.
* ALFRBA, which bills itself as a free manners and etiquette course but hawks such hip-hop sportswear as do-rags, bucket hats, sweat suits and T-shirts online. It received $3,000 in 2008 and 2009.
* El Maestro, which was a for-profit boxing gym in 2009 when it applied for and received $5,100 for equipment from the fund, which is supposed to support only nonprofits. In 2010 the gym secured nonprofit status, but it still charges members a $100 initiation and $30 to $50 in monthly fees.
* Flo-Bert Ltd., a tap-dance troupe that performs an annual recital in Manhattan. The group got $2,000 in 2009 even though it hadn’t filed paperwork with the IRS since 2007. The feds canceled the purported nonprofit’s tax-exempt status last month.
* Praise, Peace and Pride, which didn’t bother to explain its mission on a 2007 tax form. The charity later explained it in a 2009 filing, but the form showed it didn’t spend a dime on its “youth services.” It filed no tax forms in 2008. Yet it received $5,100 in Yankee money in 2009. It scored another $20,000 in 2010 and 2011, an organizer said. In March, the group announced an effort to “provide medical-health and dental-care assistance for all hip-hop pioneers and their families.”
* The Emma C. Brisbane Foundation, which received a $1,500 grant in 2009 even though the nonprofit after-school center hadn’t submitted required tax filings since 2005. The IRS revoked its tax-exempt status in June.
The Post’s findings left the Yankees frustrated.
Noting that the baseball club had nothing to do with the administration of the funds, spokeswoman Alice McGillion said, “This is the first we are hearing of a problem in the allocation of money from the fund. We would be extremely disappointed if that were the case. And if there is a problem with the allocation of the money, we have a right to conduct our own audit and stop the payments.”
“If appropriate,” she added, “we would also urge the proper authorities to also take a look at the allocation of the funds.”
The Bronx Bombers pledged the yearly donations as part of a “community-benefits agreement” signed with local pols in 2006 to secure parkland and community support for its gleaming new stadium.
Over the last three years, the Yanks have made good on their end of the legally binding deal: delivering an annual $800,000 to the fund to be distributed to Bronx nonprofits, $100,000 for equipment for youth sports groups and 15,000 game tickets.
According to the fund’s former administrator, Michael Drezin, seven voting board members rubber-stamp community groups picked by a three-person subcommittee operating behind closed doors.
Fund President Serafin U. Mariel sits on the panel and picks the other two members.
Mariel is a banker whose name surfaced during the borough’s infamous Wedtech scandal of the 1980s, in which three pols were snared by the feds for taking bribes from a local military-supply company.
Although he was never charged, testimony at trial revealed Mariel had handed the debt-ridden Wedtech owners a briefcase stuffed with $500,000 in cash, reports said.
Mariel and the two other members of the subcommittee “were the only ones who saw the applications” for the Yankee cash, Drezin said.
Often, politically connected charities got instant approval and a bigger piece of the pie, he said.
“During meetings, it was made clear to me that they were favored, preferential applications that got favored, preferential treatment,” he said.
One such charity was BASICS Inc., which runs drug-counseling centers and builds homeless shelters. It has a former assemblyman, a former judge and a sitting judge on its board. The retired jurist, Harold Silverman, is also a member of the Yankee community fund.
Judge Lucindo Suarez ruled against Drezin in a 2009 lawsuit filed against the fund. Drezin claimed he was wrongfully fired because he complained about mismanagement and was not paid his $35,000 annual salary for three years. He said he’s filing an appeal next month.
While questionable groups and pet projects got cash from the fund, several legitimate nonprofits in the shadow of the stadium -- like the community board -- got zilch.“They denied us,” Community Board 4 District Manager José Rodriguez fumed.
The fund’s treasurer, Susan Goldy, refused to turn over the fund’s 2010 and 2011 annual reports, which are mandated by the community-benefits agreement. The Post obtained 2008 and 2009 reports from sources.
Mariel told a Post reporter, “I have nothing to say,” and slammed down the phone.
Virginia Ann Brisbane, president of the Emma Brisbane Center, said she put in for the $1,500 to buy a computer server and chairs -- and that she never had to document finances.
Barbara J. Gibson, the CEO of ALFRBA, defended the etiquette course that gleaned $3,000 in Yankee funding, but declined to discuss the internet apparel line.
New York Post - September 25 , 2011- By Candice M. Giove, Kevin Sheehan and Gary Buiso
NYC Park Advocates - 2008 - By Geoffrey Croft & Lukas Herbert
New York Daily News - September 5th 2007 - By Frank Lombardi
New York Times - January 7, 2008 - By Timothy Williams
New York City Bar - March 8, 2010