A public corruption panel created by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrongly labeled an Orthodox Jewish mental health agency as a do-nothing charity, a joint investigation by the Forward and WNYC has found. But the charity does have ties to operatives with deep political influence who have used it for unrelated political ends.
The Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption presented Relief Resources, which it did not identify by name, as “Illustration #1” of how state-funded charities misuse government funds in a December report.
“[The funds] certainly didn’t go to improve the health of anybody in New York City,” Moreland co-chair William Fitzpatrick said in an upstate radio interview soon after news outlets, including WNYC, identified Relief by name. “Who got those dollars?”
Yet mental health experts and Orthodox community members have lauded the group, which some said has helped lift the stigma against mental illness in the Orthodox community.
“They’ve done amazing kinds of work in terms of community education in a way that I really think has really changed perspectives [in] the Orthodox Jewish community,” said David Pelcovitz, a clinical psychologist and a professor at Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education & Administration. Pelcovitz is also a member of Relief’s medical advisory board. “They’ve really made a difference in terms of meeting the mental health needs of what had been a previously underserved community,” he said.
Moreland investigators spent 25 days in 2013 spying on Relief’s offices in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. They set up a camera outside Relief’s front door, keeping track of how many people came and went. They dispatched undercover operatives to see what was going on inside, and called the group’s hotline pretending to be patients. In their report, commission investigators wrote that their probe had raised “significant questions” about the group’s use of state money.
The Moreland Commission’s report stated that Relief had received much of its money through earmarks sponsored by lawmakers, not through competitively bid contracts, and noted that it employed a high-powered lobbying firm. The camera outside “showed little foot traffic to the building,” commissioners wrote, and the investigator who went inside found only one employee. The report also criticized the quality of service that investigators received on Relief’s mental health services referral phone line.
Fitzpatrick went further in his radio interview with WCNY, an upstate public radio station, on December 9, alleging that Relief had not helped any New Yorkers. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for the Moreland Commission declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.