They formed a charity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help victims of the hurricane, and raised about $31,000 in the process.
Yet, only $1,392 actually made it to the victims of the hurricane.
Meeks said in a statement that "the funds were utilized to help sustain displaced evacuees," but refused to provide further detail. He said money was administered by an unidentified director and that "a committee of community representatives functioned as advisers to the fund."Where did the rest of the money go?
But three of those advisers said they had no idea whether cash was given out by the group, New Yorkers Organized to Assist Hurricane Families, or NOAH-F.
"I had nothing to do with any disbursement of any funds," said the Rev. Edward Davis, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of St. Albans in Queens. "I can't tell you. I don't know."
Another advisory board member, Candace Sandy, said she volunteered to help Katrina refugees living temporarily at a hotel near Kennedy Airport, but did not distribute money.
Sandy, who works for Meeks, said another advisory board member, Claude Stuart, was in charge of the money. Stuart did not return phone calls for comment.
Pamela Moore, chief-of-staff to Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, was listed as a member of the advisory board but said that it was a position in name only.
"I never attended any board meetings," she said, adding that she did not know if board meetings were even held.
Clark, a Queens Democrat, said she was upset about the charity's lack of accountability. "I'm very, very disturbed and disheartened," she said.
The lawmaker said she helped set up a gospel concert that raised $11,210 after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005.
"We turned this money over to the congressman [Meeks]," Clark said. "I don't know exactly how it was given out."
No one knows. Not Meeks. Not Smith.
It's a mystery.
And it's just the tip of the iceberg as nearly $150,000 is unaccounted for.
Some $150,000 in donations, including thousands the community raised to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, remains unaccounted for, according to Ken Boehm, head of the National Legal and Policy Center.This sounds like a job for NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate and determine whether Meeks and Smith set up a bogus charity where the money meant for victims ended up in someone else's pockets. When only 4% of the money goes to the purpose of the charity in Katrina relief and 96% ends up sucked up in "administrative costs" for lack of a better word, something is up.
"When you see lots and lots of consulting fees with large amounts flashing around, at some point one wonders if an elected official is trying to sell their office," said Boehm.
"Sen. Smith, with respect to New Direction, violated several provisions of New York state law," he said.
Boehm says his group will lodge a complaint with the state's Public Integrity Commission this week.
Typically, better charities limit their administrative costs to less than 15% so that the bulk of the money goes to the given purpose - not sucked up in administrative costs that enrich no one but those responsible for operating the charity. This "charity" appears to give 4% to its stated purpose.
In fact, a search on the Attorney General's charity database reveals no sign of this charity (NOAH-F) at all. New Direction LDC does show up. New Directions LDC, which operates out of Queens, appears to be little more than a slush fund for local politicians, including Meeks and Smith, for their member items (pork).
Lest I forget, Smith was the Senate Majority Leader following the Democrats' takeover of the NYS State Senate, and was the minority leader previously. That put him in a position to dole out the member items.