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Peralta’s ties to old nonprofit questioned

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State Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) has come under fire from a Corona activist who suspects the legislator of wrongdoing in his associations with a now-defunct nonprofit based out of a building co-owned by his mother.

Humberto Suarez-Motta urged state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the situation, while Peralta called the allegations a “smear tactic.”

The Corona-Elmhurst Center for Economic Development, at 104-01 Roosevelt Ave., is now shuttered after its executive director, Fernando Fernandez, resigned. Peralta’s office said Fernandez required a kidney transplant and the nonprofit has been unable to find a replacement.

A cell phone number for Fernandez was disconnected. He did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

The building, which has also housed Peralta’s campaign committee, belongs to a holding company co-owned by Peralta’s mother, Rosa Hernandez, and Mercedes Mota. A published report said Hernandez was listed as making a number of in-kind contributions to the campaign to account for the office space — something Suarez-Motta said is illegal because she is not listed as the legal owner of the building.

A search of online state Campaign Finance Board records did not reveal any instances of in-kind contributions from Hernandez. But online records do show that on Dec. 11 Peralta’s campaign committee refunded $9,300 of in-kind contributions to the holding company for the 2006 election year and $10,600 for the 2005 year.

The state Board of Elections did not respond to a FOIL request for comment in regards to campaign contributions to Peralta. Peralta’s office too did not respond to request for comment as to why they refunded the $19,900.

Suarez-Motta also demanded to know what happened to the $250,000 in federal funding allocated to the nonprofit in 2006 by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights). Then-state Sen. John Sabini also allocated $90,000 to the nonprofit in 2007. The nonprofit apparently has not filed any tax records with the IRS.

Peralta’s office said the assemblyman put all funding for the nonprofit on hold after Fernandez resigned.

“Where is this money? The place is closed. It is not active,” said Humberto Suarez-Motta, although he stopped short of accusing Peralta of taking the funds for himself. “It’s not for us to decide on that, it’s for the attorney general to investigate and decide on this matter.”

Suarez-Motta is no stranger to political fights in Corona. He tried unsuccessfully to get on the Democratic primary ballot to challenge Peralta in 2004. He also took part in a 2008 protest outside Monserrate’s office over public funds allocated to another defunct nonprofit, the Latino Initiative for Better Resources and Empowerment.

Suarez-Motta said he was alerted to the issue when he received an anonymous package with some of the information. He said last Thursday that he had not yet sent Cuomo’s office any correspondence about the nonprofit.

Eduardo Giraldo, a former City Council candidate and former president of the Queens Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke in defense of Peralta.

“It looks like dirty politics to me again in our neighborhood,” he said of the allegations, noting that Chamber board members also served on the nonprofit’s advisory board.

Peralta traced the allegations to state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), whom he will face in the 2010 Democratic primary.

“He has a few allies in some places,” the assemblyman said “And, look, they’re all lies.”

Monserrate came under scrutiny in 2008 when The New York Times reported authorities were investigating the possibility that he had used LIBRE employees to gather petition signatures to get him on the ballot.

LIBRE, now defunct, filed no tax records after 2005.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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