David Stone
Rema Townsend, Crimes with RISA at the Senior Center, Part 1
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

On July 28th, Rema Townsend, who served as Program Director for the Roosevelt Island Seniors Association for at least 13 years, pled guilty to three felony counts and one misdemeanor in New York Supreme Court. In a negotiated deal, the District Attorney's office allowed her to plead down from a 17 count indictment that represented only a slice of the suspected wrongdoing during RISA's tenure at the Senior Center.

Note: In gathering information for this series, we talked extensively with four sources, each of whom confirmed various details supplied by others. Our sources requested anonymity because they fear retaliation by RISA, which has a confirmed and continuing history of harassment.

We will provide details on past and continuing harassment in future parts of this series. Today, we cover crimes Townsend confessed to, others for which we've seen documentation and more suspected based on evidence.

The indictment from which Townsend pled down included only the most blatant and easy to convict of her illicit activities.

The Plea Bargain

Settling the case against her, Townsend admitted responsibility for actions leading to three counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and a single count of Petit Larceny. None of these charges were part of the original indictment but were reduced in negotiations.

It is not known what concessions, including testimony about others and/or related crimes, Townsend may have agreed to with the District Attorney in reaching an agreement to greatly reduced charges, if any. Multiple other investigations are known to be underway.

But she went a serious step farther than a simple guilty plea.

"I hereby waive my right to appeal from this judgment of conviction," is part of the deal to which she signed off in open court.

That's a hard conviction with no turning back. Townsend is a convicted felon for life.

She was released in her own recognizance and is next scheduled to appear, presumably for sentencing, in January.

Chronologically, the first of Townsend's crimes happened over two years, starting in 2010.

According to a report by Special Investigator Cory Pihl, "the business records I reviewed, from on or about May 2010 through on or about July 6, 2012, defendant (Townsend) was employed as a Personal Assistant and provided services under the supervision and direction of the consumer in accordance to a Medicaid plan of care.

"I have reviewed weekly timesheets from the week ending March 25, 2011 through the week ending July 6, 2012, all of which bear what appears to be defendant's signature. They show that during each week in that time period, defendant was working ten hours a day, Monday through Friday, for a consumer who resided in the Bronx.

"As a result of her timesheet submissions, defendant received $50,000 dollars from Concepts of Independence. According to defendant, during that time period, she was also a full-time Director of the Roosevelt Island Senior Center with a salary of tens of thousands of dollars."

At the time of her termination by RISA (at the direction of the Department for the Aging), Townsend was reportedly paying herself $80,000 per year as Program Director at the Senior Center.

A more devious scheme uncovered showed that "approximately 109 checks drawn on" RISA accounts at Amalgamated Bank "were made payable to Arnold Williams," Pihl reported.

"The first check was dated January 27, 2012, the last check was dated May 27, 2016...(just weeks before Townsend was fired and months after DFTA began its investigation), and the remaining checks were dated throughout 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. The aggregate value of the checks was over $22,900.

"I have reviewed business records of JPMorgan Chase Bank for an account in defendant's name. They show that 91 of those checks, with an aggregate value of over $18,500, were deposited into defendant's bank account."

Here's a detail of that makes the crime even creepier: 

"Defendant stated, in sum and substance, that she caused all of the checks to be issued. Arnold Williams is defendant's son's father."

Townsend tried unsuccessfully to have Williams hired to make food deliveries for RISA. When that didn't materialize, she wrote checks for it anyway. At the same time, she paid another man in cash who actually was making deliveries to homebound seniors.

She paid the guy who did the work half of what she dished out to her son's father but mostly kept for herself by forging his initials on them before deposit in her personal account.

A final sleight of hand mentioned in the plea deal showed that Townsend double-dipped on grants from both RIOC and DFTA, buying a refrigerator, a stove and painting labor, together worth $6,000, and submitting payment claims to both agencies.

Townsend, according to Pihl, "believed it was permissible to request and receiving funding from two different agencies for the same goods and services."

This happened in April 2016, after Townsend had worked for RISA for at least 13 years by then and had applied for other grants, including RIOC Public Purpose Funds.

So, What Didn't Show Up In the Indictment or the Plea Deal?

The above may make Rema Townsend appear to be little more than an everyday crook, albeit creative, who made enough mistakes to get caught, but there's more to her story, which leads some of my sources to assume that her guilty plea is only the first step in uncovering wrongdoing during RISA's management of the Roosevelt Island Senior Center.

If knowing that Townsend was able to steal freely from funds set aside for seniors for at least seven years doesn't raise an eyebrow, some of this will.

While the indictment covers 109 checks written on RISA accounts at Amalgamated Bank, I was shown dozens more that where the signature of a RISA Officer was forged, presumably by Townsend.

Records that Townsend was unable to destroy after RIOC tried to shut down the Senior Center, when some of the thefts were first exposed in February of 2016, reveal a total of approximately 265 forged checks.

Townsend regularly charged RISA for reimbursement when claiming to attend professional conferences, but vanity compelled her to testify against herself by posting, on Facebook, pictures of her on a luxury vacation while supposedly at a conference.

One source who has done extensive research on Townsend's activities as they relate to RISA estimates she rang up about $100,000 for vacations disguised as conferences.

The Facebook page didn't stop there. It included photographs of Townsend posing with luxury goods, including a Bentley automobile. At the time, according to RISA President Delores Green, RISA was struggling to accumulate enough money for member activities.

Unexplored are multiple American Express credit cards billed to RISA at an address in New Jersey, the state in which Townsend resides. These, it's theorized, were used to launder money taken from RISA under false pretenses.

If none of this strikes you as weird enough, weirdest of all is what appear to be four different businesses run by Townsend, under the assumed name of Rema Rozay, at least partly out of the Senior Center.

RISA's funds were used to pay for shipping charges that can't otherwise be explained.

For adults only, you can get an idea of what Rema Rozay was up to on Instagram where she describes herself, not as a Senior Center manager but "...Fashionista ,Socialite, Hustla, Trendsetter , Foreign car driver.......and Dallas's Mommy." (Note: After we posted this article, Townsend took her Instagram account private. It's no longer visible to most of us.)

And now a convicted felon.

A Reflection

I only met Rema Townsend once in person. I was on assignment for the former Main Street WIRE, covering an art class at the Center, conducted by my friend Arline Jacoby.

Townsend leaned into the classroom. I remember her as a mildly menacing figure.

"She's always checking in," Jacoby told me. "She says they can't afford to spend too much on supplies."

The Daily thanks Ron Davidson whose research contributed greatly to this report.

Tomorrow: Enablers, Heroes & Villains