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Fresh Meadows non-profit says audit vindicates them

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The founder of a non-profit accused of misappropriating funds in a lawsuit has produced an audit of the organization’s finances which she said proved she did nothing wrong.

Eleanor Ruder, executive director of the Fresh Meadows-based Bridge to Life, has become the focus of a lawsuit brought by the group’s former treasurer and her neighbor in Bayside, Bill Lucadamo.

Lucadamo has charged Bridge to Life misdirected funds that it raised for its College Point home for unwed mothers to its other operations.

The financial troubles of the organization have brought the home to the verge of closing. It is being kept open only by a court order.

The matter currently sits with state Supreme Judge Janice Taylor in Jamaica. Taylor is scheduled to next hear the case on Nov. 22.

Bridge to Life is a 10-year-old organization aimed at helping women choose to have a child rather than an abortion. It provides a range of services, offering free baby and maternity clothing in Astoria and College Point and counseling at its offices in Fresh Meadows.

Last year Bridge to Life opened a home for 10 unwed mothers in College Point, where they can live for up to a year, giving a third of their income to rent.

According to Lucadamo, about $100,000 was raised to support specifically the College Point home. In his lawsuit, Lucadamo claims that only about half of that amount did go to the home.

Lucadamo said he discovered the financial discrepancy in his work as treasurer and contends he was voted off the board of the organization after raising questions.

Ruder, however, has made two claims in her defense.

First, she said that the money was donated to Bridge to Life as a whole, and not specifically to the College Point home. Her organization is free to spend the money on whatever it sees fit, Ruder said.

Second, she disputed Lucadamo’s math.

Ruder said the findings of the auditor, Frank Saia, vindicated her.

“Bill Lucadamo claimed that we had taken $57,000 in funds that were meant for the home and used them for Bridge to Life,” Ruder said. “The audit shows the complete opposite. The home owes Bridge to Life $38,000.”

Ruder said her organization has made $139,000 in repairs to the St. Fidelis Convent on 14th Avenue, where the mothers are housed.

But Lucadamo said he was confident in earlier figures completed March 5 by the accounting firm of Presti and Neagele.

“The numbers are exactly accurate in terms of actual checks and actual withdrawals,” he said. “There is no doubt about the numbers.”

Whose numbers are correct, and whether or not Lucadamo succeeds in his suit, will ultimately be decided in Taylor’s courtroom.

In the meantime, Bridge to Life is going through financial struggles.

Taylor has ordered the home to remain open until a decision is reached.

Ruder has said the group cannot afford to keep the home open and continue to distribute clothing in Astoria as well as College Point and offer counseling in Fresh Meadows.

She has requested that Taylor reconsider her ruling.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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