Meeks, Smith nonprofit funds questioned

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Several southeast Queens political leaders’ involvement in a neighborhood nonprofit has been called into question amid a report in the New York Post that the group’s tax returns failed to give a full accounting of how its funds were spent.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) both contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last decade to a Springfield Gardens-based organization known as the New Direction Local Development Corp.

The group, which was founded by the two elected officials in 2001, is dedicated to fostering economic development in southeast Queens by redirecting funding to other groups in the area, according to New Development’s Web site.

But an article by the New York Post claimed the group has been squandering most of its cash, which came in the form of government funds set aside for nonprofit groups from Smith and Meeks, according to the paper. Smith’s wife, Michele, was one of New Direction’s board members at the time it was created along with the wife of the senator’s former business partner, Darryl Greene, the Post said.

In 2004, International Airport Centers, an Illinois-based cargo developer that was building space at John F. Kennedy International Airport, gave $250,000 to New Development, which would provide grants to several southeast Queens groups and civics, including the Jewish Community Council for the Rockaway Peninsula.

Smith and Meeks helped to broker the deal between the developer and New Development, according to the Post.

The group reported in its tax filing that year that it spent $100,736 on programs and more than $80,000 on grants, with no mention of the remaining $150,000, the paper said.

In a statement released Monday, Smith said he did not know how the discrepancy between the funds and the tax reports occurred and he was not an active member in the nonprofit.

“Sen. Smith appropriated funds for a community-based organization that serves local needs. Neither he nor his wife have [sic] had any involvement in the day-to-day operations or administration of the organization since he helped found it,” the statement read.

Meeks also said he had no role in the group’s operations except for helping to get it started. One of its former board members was Rev. Edwin Reed, who worked under Floyd Flake at the Allen AME Cathedral.

“You had some good people, lawyers, who said they wanted to help out and I said sure I’ll help out,” he said. “After that I had no involvement.”

The phone number for New Direction Local Development Corp. was disconnected.

In 2005, the group began taking donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and received donations with help from Smith, Meeks and state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village), according to New Direction’s Web site. Meeks gave $10,000 to the relief effort from his political action committee, but took half of it back a year later for unknown reasons, the Post said.

Two groups, the Rent Stabilization Association of New York and the Hindu Temple Society, reportedly gave $15,000 to the same charity to help New Orleans victims, but the group reported that it gave a $1,392 grant for “hurricane victims expense,” according to the report. The Rent Stabilization Association made its donation after an appeal from Smith, the Post said.

In its tax returns that year, New Development, which the Post said had nearly $55,000 in the bank in 2009, listed that it gave a $1,392 grant for “hurricane victim expense,” according to the paper. The Post said the group is in the process of disbanding and has paid the Internal Revenue Service more than $9,000 in fees for a late tax filing.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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