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Where Was the Board?

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BY DUNCAN OSBORNE | From 2006 through 2009, Lisa Winters, then the executive director of the Bronx Community Pride Center, used $338,674 of the non-profit’s money to pay for personal expenses, including $15,953 for her dog walker, $12,000 for meals, $9,604 for pet supplies, and $1,884 for “purchases at liquor stores,” according to a 2012 report from the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI).

Performer Tym Moss entertains the crowd at the July 21 Bronx Pride event, which may be the last such event. | Gay City News

That report “discovered a lack of board oversight and control over Winters,” the DOI concluded. The daughter of Michelle Lopez, then the board chair, stayed in Winters’ home “for some time during 2008.” Winters took the daughter on a cruise that the agency purchased to auction off at a fundraiser.

Former and current employees, both anonymously and named, told board members that Winters was stealing and had been drunk at work, but Lopez, who declined to comment, dismissed some of these complaints when Bill Goeren, another board member, brought them to her attention saying the allegations were “unfounded” and the employee “had an issue with Winters,” the DOI wrote.

In fairness to the board, Winters took steps to hide her actions. She had the agency’s bank statements sent to her home. When the board asked for copies, she refused to turn them over. Winters told agency staff that all communications with the board had to go through her and any employee who did not comply would be fired.

The board fired Winters in 2010 and reported her actions to the city. The Bronx district attorney was already watching Winters. On June 26 of this year, she was arrested and charged with 23 counts of falsifying business records and one grand larceny count. Her attorney, Ilona Coleman, did not respond to a call seeking comment. Bronx Pride, as the agency is commonly known, is not alone.

In 2007, Michael Roberson took over Brooklyn’s People of Color in Crisis (POCC), an AIDS group. A federal audit concluded that from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, he spent just under $80,000 on personal travel, hotels, dining out, clothes, gym memberships, and cash transfers to friends.

Bronx Pride closed its doors earlier this year and POCC was forced to close in 2008.

“Clearly, the boards had issues is one way to look at it,” said Marcus S. Owens, a partner with Caplin & Drysdale. a law firm with offices in Washington, DC and New York City. “It appears in these cases that the board members could have done more than they did.”

Owens is the former director of the non-profit organizations division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He noted that thieves tend to act in secret.

“When you have embezzlement, sometimes discovering that is not easy,” he said. “Embezzlers often take pains to cover their tracks.”

Boards should have members, outside consultants, or both who can assist them in unearthing wrongdoing.

“I’d be willing to bet that probably there was no outside accounting firm doing audits,” Owens said. “Often that will pick up weaknesses of internal controls.”

The responsibilities of boards of directors fall under two broad headings — they must protect an agency’s money and they must manage the agency.

“They have to make sure that not only the monies are being put into the programs, they have to be sure that the right people are being brought in,” said Lindsay J.K. Nichols, the communications director at GuideStar, the leading source of non-profit information. Board members are usually asked to raise money as well.

“That is typically the case and that is something certainly we recommend, but it’s not only fundraising,” Nichols said.

Antonio Centeno, a former Bronx Community Pride Center board member, at the July 21 Bronx Pride event. | Gay City News

Antonio Centeno joined the Bronx Pride board in September of 2010 after Winters was terminated. The agency had debts of roughly $300,000 on a budget of roughly $1 million.

“When I came on, I came on to try and salvage the organizati­on,” Centeno said at the July 21 Bronx Pride celebration that was produced this year by an ad hoc committee. “There was a lot to do.”

The agency was struggling and trying to raise “unrestricted funds” as opposed to the government funds that are used for specific programs and that made up most of its annual budget.

When Republicans took over the House in 2010, they eliminated member items and Bronx Pride lost $250,000 in annual support from Congressman Jose Serrano, a Bronx Democrat.

“That started really hurting us,” Centeno said. “By losing that contract now we didn’t have enough just to make it.”

The agency delivered a range of services to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Bronx residents and it mounted the Bronx Pride event. The ad hoc committee pulled together half of the $5,000 needed for city permits. Peter C. Frank, a ad hoc committee member, said losing the agency was “a shame.” It left unanswered questions.

“I don’t know what kind of fiscal controls were in place,” he said at the July 21 event. The committee is vowing to resurrect Bronx Pride.

“Hopefully, by next year there will be a new community center in place,” Frank said. Should it open, the new center will be a “membership-based organization” with open board meetings and more financial oversight.

“I would make sure that all employee fiscal expenditures would have to be reviewed or approved by an officer of the group,” Frank said.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Peter C. Frank says:
Dear Editors: With regard to your 2 August 2012 article, "Where Was the Board", there are two items I'd like to address: First, Lisa Winters was arrested on 15 June 2012 (see http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-06-26/news/3... ). She was released *without* bail, which in and of itself raises serious questions, considering the charges of Grand Larceny in the 2nd degree, and 23 misdemeanor counts of falsifying business records. As "resurrecting Bronx Pride," for the record, while the ad hoc committee did resurrect the Bronx Pride festival, it is NOT trying to resurrect the Bronx Community Pride Center. Instead, the committee plans to create an entirely brand-new LGBTQ community center—one with a clean slate. Anyone who is interested in helping with these efforts should get in touch either with myself or another member of the ad hoc committee, most of whom helped plan and organize the Bronx Pride 2012 festival in just 12 days (with the support of the BCPC in securing the park permits that had already been applied for but after which nothing had been done). Stay tuned to http://facebook.com/bronxlgbtqcenter for the latest on the ad hoc committee's efforts in creating a new LGBTQ community center, one with a clean slate and that serves and answers to the community. It is our hope to have the first Annual Membership Meeting within the first quarter of 2013. In the meantime, we are planning a number of fundraising events in order to raise the capital necessary to open and operate a community center for the LGBTQ residents of The Bronx and neighboring areas. -Peter C. Frank Bronx Pride 2012 organizer & member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Create a New LGBTQ Community Services Center in The Bronx
Aug. 4, 2012, 7:37 pm
GiorgioNYC says:
What is with the boards of these organizations? Why don't they exercise oversight or basically do what boards of directors are supposed to do, i.e., ensure that organizations have sufficient resources, support organizational growth, and provide solid governance? In my experience, too many of them just don't have the skills. Too many directors of community-based organizations (and not only gay ones) owe their positions to personal connections and friendships, or because they represent a particular demographic. Winters and Roberson, both of whom I have had contact with, could talk a good and very PC game. But they were all talk, no substance, and even worse, predators.
Aug. 9, 2012, 6:41 pm
CLR says:
I worked at the Bronx Community Pride Center as its Deputy Director for 89 days in 2004/05 before resigning due to the erratic, unprofessional, and questionable policies of Lisa Winters. I wrote about her abuses and shady behavior and copied my resignation letter to the President of the Board. Nothing was done and I never got a reply. Lisa's best friend was the board president. They were protecting each other and blocking information to other Board Members. The Board was inactive, inattentive, and lacking any kind of oversight. They were warned numerous times about Lisa, but chose to do nothing. While I was employed and trying to build up programming, it came to my attention that the Youth Coordinator for the "Spot Next Door" augmented his income by being involved with porn. Especially porn that was made by black and latin youth. When I found this out I confronted Lisa, and in my letter of resignation I stated it again, but no one ever helped me or supported me. Using NYC money to fund pornographers to work with marginalized youth was beyond contempt. She denied knowing, but the entire staff verified that she was lying. I asked why she did not fire him on the spot when I brought it to her attention. She had hired friends and considered him"family" so did not want to do anything. It was another sign of wildly inappropriate boundaries.It was also sad that she would put the children and young adults at the Center in harms way with an adult who was neither educated, trained, or appropriate for the position. As for her broader reputation, it was well known across the city that she was to be avoided at all costs. This is why her community work fell flat, but also why the Center was not supported by the larger community. I was told many times that Lisa was not to be trusted and had burned many bridges in the community. How the hell did she get the job in the first place? Hummmmmmm maybe from her best friend the Board President. Any Board Member could have come to the site and talked with the staff at any time, but none of them showed their faces. How they could have put up with her for so long is why the money is gone. A dysfunctional Board hired a dysfunctional Executive Director. They deserve legal action against them as much as Lisa Winters.
Feb. 25, 2013, 5:49 pm

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