17, No. 18
9 - 22, 2004
Gonzalez' Ties to Nonprofits Probed
By JORDAN MOSS and HEATHER HADDON
Federal prosecutors are
investigating whether State Senator Efrain Gonzalez improperly funneled
campaign contributions and government grants into three nonprofit
organizations that employ family and associates of the Bronx Democratic
The New York Post reported in August that the U.S. attorney's office
and the city's Department of Investigation have subpoenaed Gonzalez, his
wife and other Bronx officials as part of a probe into taxpayer-funded
In his first interview since the scandal broke, Gonzalez said he was
innocent. "I haven't done anything wrong," said Gonzalez, who has
retained veteran Bronx defense lawyer Murray Richman. "Everything is
just speculation. Whatever the investigators are looking for will come out
in the process."
Two of the organizations in question -- the West Bronx Neighborhood
Association (WBNA) and the National Hispanic Policy Institute -- have
offices in the same building where Gonzalez' district office is located,
1780 Grand Concourse. The third organization, the Institute for
Multicultural Communication, Cooperation and Development, lists its office
at 1840 Grand Concourse.
Despite the fact that tax returns indicate that the WBNA has no staff, it
spent almost $59,000 on travel between 2000 and 2002. The Post first
reported on the travel expenses, and The Riverdale Press provided
The WBNA also racked up over $57,000 in telephone expenses during those same
years. WBNA's officers include the senator's brother, Angel, and Lucia
Sanchez, who shared Gonzalez' apartment until his recent marriage, according
to The Riverdale Press.
Tax documents indicate that WBNA's purpose is
"Educational/Cultural/Youth Programs/Community Issues/Family
Values/Environmental Issues/Voter Registration Drive [and]
But, despite this wide-ranging mission, and even though it spent over
$210,000 on "conventions, conferences and meetings" over a
three-year period, Bronx community leaders interviewed by the Norwood
News say they've never heard of WBNA.
Asked why the Norwood News had never heard of WBNA or received press
releases or events notices from the group, Jose Nicot, a volunteer who
answered the phone at WBNA, said the group dutifully avoids the public
"We shun any and all publicity," Nicot said. "We don't really
say all the things we do. We prefer to remain silent and help people. If the
Lord acknowledges us in the afterlife, that's good enough for us."
Nicot said the group sponsors "lots and lots of youth activities,"
including neighborhood concerts and education scholarships. As for
conferences and conventions, Nicot said WBNA does not run its own but
sponsors other people to organize such events.
Gonzalez also said that WBNA has kept a low profile, but defended their
work. "Nobody knows what they're about," he said. "They've
done a lot of work ... and that will come out."
The Institute for Multicultural Communication, Cooperation and Development
lists Ismael Betancourt, Jr. as its president. Betancourt, who has run for
several offices unsuccessfully, including Bronx borough president, received
compensation of $100,000 in 1997 and $27,000 in 2000. The 2000 tax document
says he worked 40 hours a week but the 1997 document lists no work
Reached at the phone number listed on the organization's tax return and
asked what the Institute for Multicultural Communication does, Betancourt
said it produces concerts, conferences, videos, and provides "business
assistance." Asked to name a recent concert, he mentioned an event at
the Apollo Theatre in 2003 but ended the conversation when asked for more
The National Hispanic Policy Institute, which says its purpose is to
"involve the private sector in economic advancement of the Hispanic
community" fought the merger of two Spanish-language media titans,
Univision and Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, last year. The Institute
ran a series of advertisements against the deal and, once it was approved by
the Federal Communications Commission, appealed the decision
Gonzalez says the merger hurts the Spanish-language market. The deal
severely hurt Spanish Broadcasting Systems, which owns many national radio
stations. The company donated $7,000 to Gonzalez' Senate campaign in
Gonzalez says that the Policy Institute is a national organization with
satellite space in his office. "They are based in Washington with an
office here . . . next to my office," he said. Betancourt is a board
member of the group.
Senator Gonzalez' campaign committee, Friends of Senator Gonzalez, has
donated $38,800 to WBNA over the last four years, according to publicly
available campaign finance records. The Institute for Multicultural
Communication received $1,500 in 2002 from his campaign fund.
Gonzalez defended his support for the nonprofits, saying he tries to help
all the local groups. "What's wrong with helping groups
privately?" he asked. "It doesn't have to be from government.
What's wrong with that?"
While Gonzalez wouldn't comment about specific donations, he did say that
"grassroots" groups like these needed all the help they could get.
"People don't understand what grassroots means -- it means you
got no money," he said. "We're not the Bloombergs. We're little
The organization's budgets are not insignificant, however. The Institute for
Multicultural Communication, for example, recorded $327,000 in revenue in
1999, including $110,000 in government grants. The tax documents do not
specify the source of that government support.
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