A nonprofit organization supported by City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) is working to account for more than $160,000 that was disbursed to it by the Council over the past three years.
The financial records of the Jackson Heights-based organization Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment are a mess, its current director told the New York Times Monday.
Though Libre's Web site said the tax-exempt organization has been in business for more than four years, the group only filed IRS forms once in 2005.
Monserrate said LIBRE has had "significant organizational challenges."
"While I am extremely concerned about their poor bookkeeping, I am proud to have helped them and hope that they will address any issues concerning their performance," he said in a prepared statement. Wayne Mahlke, the councilman's legislative director, declined to comment further.
Monserrate supported LIBRE through what is known as discretionary funding. Each City Council member is given a certain amount each year to release to nonprofit groups they deem worthy. Lately the practice has come under fire.
Two weeks ago, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) acknowledged her office had been funneling millions of dollars of discretionary funds into fictional nonprofit groups for later, unregulated use on favored projects. Quinn said the practice had been going on for at least two decades, but announced she was putting an end to it.
Two staffers for City Councilman Kendall Stewart (D-Brooklyn) were also recently indicted in Manhattan federal court on charges of money laundering conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy for allegedly embezzling $145,000 in Council discretionary funds.
LIBRE runs English classes, immigration assistance, job placement programs and health education services, according to its Web site, which was last updated in 2007. Language on the site is entirely in English. The group is not currently under investigation.
In the wake of Quinn's statements and the embezzlement cases, City Comptroller William Thompson froze all member item transactions and said his office would review every agency agreement funded by Council discretionary monies before any funds could be allocated.
Rodolfo Herrera, Libre's current director, was in Colombia, staff at his office said Monday. He did not return phone messages seeking comment by press time Tuesday.
Herrera told the Times that the group's finances were in disarray, but he planned to file the delinquent forms by the end of May.
Monserrate allocated $85,000 to Libre in fiscal year 2006 through the city Youth & Community Development Department, according to the Council's adopted expense budget for that year.
According to the Council's 2007 fiscal year report, the group was allocated $14,100 through the Department of Cultural Affairs and $5,000 through the Youth Department to Libre.
During the 2008 fiscal year, Monserrate allocated $30,000 through the DCA and $33,750 through the city Aging Department, Council records show.
Libre's 2005 IRS 990 form shows $49,750 in income and $24,930 in expenses. The form, covering the period between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005, lists Julissa Ferreras as the chairwoman of Libre's board of directors.
Ferreras served as Monserrate's chief of staff until August 2005. In a February 2005 letter to the TimesLedger questioning the executive session practices of Community Board 4, Monserrate wrote that Ferreras attended a CB 4 meeting in that capacity. She rejoined the councilman's office in September 2007.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2008 Community News Group
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