Camouflage, Misdirections and Lies Brought To Life In Print

To Spin a New Yarn, RISA Relies On A Favorite Tool - The Main Street WIRE

Updated 45 weeks ago David Stone
To Spin a New Yarn, RISA Relies On A Favorite Tool - The Main Street WIRE
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

"You think not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth?" Three Days of the Condor

"Yes, we'll be responding in the next issue of the Wire. You can count on it," Roosevelt Island Seniors Association Secretary Sherie Helstien was overheard telling a friend, early in August. A revised yarn was needed, now that felony convictions blew away claims of innocence while mismanaging the Senior Center. They got what they wanted as the WIRE parroted RISA's new script, adding elder neglect to support for racist trolls, hokey RIOC elections and the rat colony at PS/IS 217.

What Is a Tool?

According to the Urban DictionaryOne who lacks the mental capacity to know he is being used. A fool.

RISA's Ruse of Many Covers

Sunday morning, the day after the former Main Street WIRE devoted gallons of ink to RISA's latest version of events, an email popped into my inbox. The subject line: "WIRE Coverup."

"I'm shocked that this article was throughout the whole paper... I'm shocked at most of the things said. What in the world are people thinking to be telling so many untruths? This is ridiculous."

I'm surprised advertisers still pay the WIRE to distribute this garbage.

When I sold consulting services in the wildly competitive Manhattan technology market, we had a saying: "There's no such thing as a price," meaning that you could always shift the numbers as needed to be more competitive.

With RISA, there's no such thing as a fact.

What our researcher calls "the scam at the heart of RISA" has multiple sides, each deceptive, each supported by factoids and truthiness.

The Old and New RISA Gambit

Note: After suffering organized RISA campaigns against them, some sources asked that their names not be used for fear of new retribution. Having seen the evidence, we don't blame them.

"I can't understand why the current board is being held responsible for the problems of the previous board." Vicki Feinmel, speaking before the RIOC Board in support of RISA.

We can help her.

Current board and previous board, Old RISA and New RISA - these are phony constructions built out over time in a bid to avoid responsibility for years of elder neglect at the Senior Center. No division of that kind ever existed in the real world.

An election for RISA Officers was held in June, 2016, coincident with the group's being kicked out of the Senior Center. (Department for the Aging was so eager to get RISA out, they actually came in and ran the programs themselves until the Carter Burden Network could get organized to replace them.)

With long time RISA President Dolores Green in ill health and no longer able to continue, membership elected Barbara Parker, who'd been serving as Secretary and Community Liaison and had worked closely with Green and Program Director Rema Townsend, as their new leader.

Donna Chenkin was elected Vice President, defeating Padmini Arya. Patricia Stovall, Treasurer, and Sherie Helstien, Secretary, were unopposed as was Parker.

In the revision RISA instructed the WIRE repeat in a snarky, finger-pointing editorial, "all former Board Members turned their back (sic) on RISA."

But the truth is that both Wendy Hersh, who'd been Vice President, and Arya initially stood for election to new offices. 

Arya lost her bid, but Hersh was forced to drop out when a malicious smear campaign threatened her professional career. That campaign, which we won't dignify with details, was the brainchild of RISA Program Director Rema Townsend and was conducted openly out of their offices in the Senior Center.

Standing up to Townsend, who was in good standing with RISA, so much so that Parker recommended her to the Carter Burden Network for continuing as Program Director, presented too much of a threat to Hersh's livelihood and professional reputation.

There was no talk of "New RISA" or "Old RISA" at the time, just the normal transition to newly elected officers.

And why should there be? As Parker told the Roosevelt Islander blog at the time, "There is no investigation being conducted regarding the Roosevelt Island Senior Association."

She'd later recant, although the WIRE never noticed, even when Warsing quoted RISA Vice President Chenkin contradicting that claim this week: "(Chenkin) says she was not surprised when RISA lost the Senior Center sponsorship. 'We always understood why the contract was taken away.'"

The wheels just keep churning out the balderdash.

The Two RISAs Ruse

RISA has identify confusion. Their plaque and tax returns say "Senior," but their website says, "Seniors." Both smell bad.
RISA has identify confusion. Their plaque and tax returns say "Senior," but their website says, "Seniors." Both smell bad.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Ever credulous Editor Briana Warsing writes in the former Main Street WIRE"In one of those bureaucratic structural oddities, RISA effectively operated under two identities during the time it received support from the City Department for the Aging (DFTA). As a Roosevelt Island membership organization, officers received no pay. In its separate role as DFTA’s effective operating arm on the Island, it paid teachers, including Parker, who received no compensation as a RISA officer."

"No," says a senior familiar with RISA operations, "this is a fraud. That is, it is (a) false; and (b) known to be false by those who publish it or cause it to be published; and (c) the false information is disseminated for purposes of deceit."

There was one Board, one New York State Charitable Organization filing (CHAR500) and one IRS 990 Tax Exempt form.

There was and is only one RISA. The "DFTA’s effective operating arm" is a bogus claim. RISA had a contractual agreement with DFTA to provide services as the Carter Burden Network does now. Period.

And in operating the Senior Center, RISA received money from several government sources in addition to DFTA.

The most recent IRS filing, dated June, 2015, covering fiscal 2014, showed a paltry $1,574 in membership dues, less than 1/10th of one percent of total income.

(Another point of interest is that, in that filing, RISA claims not to have had a business transaction with any current board member, which seems to contradict statements Parker is quoted as making in the WIRE article.)

There was no effective membership organization operating independently, just as there isn't now, which is what made RISA so desperate for money it collected from RIOC. Public money is all that the "RISA dream," as Warsing calls it, has going.

About the RISA Dream

An all new term cooked up for the former Main Street WIRE article suggests more than it intends.

What exactly is the "RISA dream?"

One thing we know for sure is that it never had much to do with seniors the group was paid to help nor does it seem to now. Check out the RISA website yourself. A section titled Who We Are comes up blank. They can't even cough up a Mission Statement.

The website offers no explanation for why the organization exists at all, but what it does have are touched up photos of the Executive Board and - horrifyingly - a photo gallery with pictures of the Tram, Good Shepherd Plaza, a child playing and more, but not a single picture of an elderly individual.

As Freud might say, "RISA, your slip is showing."

And one more thing. The RISA website does carry a members roster, showing roughly 185 members, but they have nothing like that. Several people on the list have complained that they are not and never have been members.

More factoids.

More like a nightmare...

What RISA never explains, and of course, neither does the WIRE, is that the group was thrown out of the Senior Center because of elder neglect resulting from widespread malfeasance. That had repercussions far beyond Rema Townsend and possibly others helping themselves to cash. 

Malfeasance at a senior center is not victimless.

While Townsend treated herself to money bled from funds intended for seniors, the seniors, among the most defenseless and needy among us, were the victims.

Seniors were denied services. Many that should have been fed went hungry. One homebound senior died of starvation just a few floors above the Senior Center during RISA's watch, although no adequate investigation has so far been able to pinpoint responsibility.

In the WIRE's slimy article, the single longest in the current issue, President Parker is allowed to go on at length, as Warsing facilitates, in blaming anyone but herself for RISA's failure. She's even selectively allowed to quote from what she claims are verbatim tapes to shift blame off on, not just Townsend, but also Hersh, Arya and Green.

(Former officers say they are not aware of tapes being made at Board Meetings and have not had access to them to verify accuracy and completeness.)

But according to the Bridgespan Group, which specializes in strengthening philanthropy, among other things, the Board, including Parker, "is ultimately responsible for adherence to legal standards and ethical norms."

You can't simply palm responsibility off on everyone else, especially when you were, not just a Board Member, but an Executive Officer. That may play well with the "independent" WIRE, but it goes nowhere in the real world.

Which brings us to the miserable worst or RISA...

Let me ask you if you have seen any remorse from RISA, New or Old as you like, for what happened at the Senior Center, for the years of unnecessary neglect thrown at seniors?

You can read all of the groveling WIRE articles by Warsing and/or Dana Agmon. They toss plenty of scorn and point fingers freely.

But you will not see a single apology or acceptance of any responsibility from RISA or corrections by the WIRE.

On the contrary, what RISA does through its tool, the former Main Street WIRE and cohort, is dodge blame and create false fronts in a full speed effort to get public money.

Unfortunately, through RIOC's carelessness, they succeed.

You Can Call Them Untruths

Last fall, the WIRE gave Helstien Community Column space to make this fallacious claim about why RISA got drummed out of the Senior Center: "Unintentional errors crept into the program management, prompting DFTA to dismiss their appointed program director," hoping that no one was reading carefully and that Rema Townsend's crimes would never become public.

In fact, those "unintentional errors" were thefts of tens of thousands of dollars from seniors, and DFTA never had an "appointed program director." Townsend worked for RISA for fourteen years, never for DFTA, and RISA's Board was responsible for hiring and managing her.

Here, it wasn't just Helstien covering up wrongdoing at the RISA run Senior Center, it was the WIRE playing along. Only a fool would buy such a flimsy argument.

That Board, including Parker as President by then, had to be ordered by DFTA to fire Townsend. As noted earlier, Parker suggested Townsend be considered for Program Director at Carter Burden.

There's more.

In lengthy WIRE articles attributed to Warsing and Agmon, apparently while Parker and Helstien still fantasized that the truth would never come out, blame for RISA's eviction from the Senior Center was aimed at Wendy Hersh because she acted as whistleblower - along with Arya, who Parker trashes in the current issue.

Hersh should have taken it all up with the Board first, according to Warsing's credulous report, before going outside the group.

But Hersh had already been there.

When she tried to enforce checks and balances on Townsend's use of RISA finances, she got little support from Parker. And when Townsend lashed out, calling Hersh a "sick control freak" and threatening to not come to work until she got full control of the money again, neither email recipient, Parker nor Green, who was ill at the time, rebuked her.

Townsend continued stealing on a regular basis while remaining in their good graces, right to the end.

Thefts continued with enthusiasm until just before DFTA was forced to step in.

The last fraudulent check that became part of her plea deal was written by Townsend at the end of May, 2016, months after Hersh tried to get Parker and the Board to bring her under control.

In the same WIRE issue, six months after losing the DFTA contract, Townsend was awarded nearly a full page to absolve herself without the slightest challenge from either Warsing or Agmon. She was given a free hand to trash the RISA Board and blame what she claimed was their universal ignorance and neglect for the wreckage she made of the Senior Center.

Warsing and Agmon bought it like it was free candy.

The WIRE, too, just like the Parker and Helstien led RISA, never admitted their mistake or went back to correct the record. They just changed the story and found more fault with everyone else.

And while we're at it, there's RIOC and its Board, neither of which exercised enough caution in giving public money away to RISA.

When Board Member Mike Shinozaki tried to get them to think things through in light of radically new information, he was met with offhand dishonesty by Margie Smith, who played RISA's tune, claiming that no current Board Members were involved in the so-called Old RISA - even as one sat right in front of her, and disinterest from everyone else.

Smith shares Maple Tree Group membership with RISA Secretary Helstien. She is also listed a RISA member on their website but did not disclose any conflicts of interest during public discussions.

And RIOC legal counsel Jaci Flug added to the mischief by advising the Board that Townsend was convicted of a single felony and a misdemeanor. In fact, she had paper work showing three felony counts in the plea deal.

In advising the Board, she apparently also never told them that one of the felony counts resulted from Townsend double-dipping on a RIOC grant, a fact which may have given them pause to reconsider.

Who knows where that money went? But it was of no concern to RIOC's Board or executive staff, which voted to give RISA $15,000, without looking any more deeply into the issues than before.

Even when blatant elder neglect and miserable mismanagement are evident, homers get what Warsing, with unintentional dark humor, writes of as a "benefit of the doubt." 

More like a hometown whitewash.


It takes a village of carelessness, neglect and irresponsibility to let RISA walk away with a fistful of public money without once accepting responsibility or showing the slightest remorse for the neglect suffered by seniors in our community.

The Main Street WIRE, RIOC and RIOC's resident Board Members all get credit for letting harm inflicted on seniors go unpunished - and generously rewarded instead.

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