NEW YORK (CN) – Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday sued the United Homeless Organization for running a charity that he says promises to feed and house the homeless but instead has pocketed “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The UHO’s donation tables are commonplace in high-traffic areas of New York City, and up to 50 tables are set up during the weekdays, the lawsuit states.
“Each day on the streets of New York City, UHO table workers convince sympathetic passersby to deposit cash into plastic jugs under the false pretense that their hard-earned money is going to a bona fide charity that funds services for the homeless,” Cuomo wrote in his lawsuit filed in New York Supreme Court. “All of the money dropped into the UHO jugs is pocketed” by workers and Stephen Riley and Myra Walker, who head the organization.
Cuomo says table workers pose as homeless people, “donning UHO-branded hats, identification badges (and) aprons,” but are actually paid a fixed $15 fee per person for the right to use the materials. After paying the fee, the workers pocket the rest of the donations, the lawsuit says.
In 2007 and 2008, “nearly $50,000 in cash expenses lacked documentation explaining the purpose for which UHO funds were spent,” the lawsuit states, and “thousands of dollars of cash withdrawals and payments for personal expenses” went to Riley, Walker and others.
Cuomo says over $173,000 in cash was withdrawn from the group’s account between January 2005 and August 2008 and used for “day-to-day personal living expenses, such as cable television, groceries, restaurant meals, utilities, shopping, personal travel” and other expenses.
Riley and Walker “perpetuate their scheme” by ensuring that there is no board of directors to oversee their actions since incorporating in 1993, the lawsuit states.
Cuomo wants the operation shut down.