David Stone
RISA President Barbara Parker (L) in May at CBN/RI Senior Health & Wellness Day
RISA President Barbara Parker (L) in May at CBN/RI Senior Health & Wellness Day
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Rema Townsend, who served as Program Director for the Roosevelt Island Seniors Association for thirteen years until the group was forced out of operating the Senior Center in June of last year, pled guilty to three counts of 3rd Degree Grand Larceny, a felony, and a misdemeanor charge of Petit Larceny, in New York Supreme Court. Sources tell The Daily the charges stem from her work with RISA at the Senior Center.

Although efforts seem to have been made to keep Townsend's July 28th guilty plea quiet, it remained so for only a couple of days. Rumors were reported "...spreading thru the senior center like a house fire,” yesterday afternoon.

Details are sketchy, but The Daily will find out as much as we can and bring you a fuller report in the coming days.

Here's what we know so far.

A Whitewash in the Main Street WIRE

The Main Street WIRE, which has close connections with RISA's Executive Board, published a long article on December 10th, last year, that gave Townsend an open platform to dump on RISA's management, blaming them for "a lack of understanding by former and new board members" that resulted in what she claimed were false accusations and RISA's loss of City funding.

In a confusing transition, RISA elected a new Board at the same time as the Department for the Aging was evicting them from Senior Center management. Only Barbara Parker, who had served as Secretary, continued, now as President.

Parker, who has led an effort to remake the group out of the rubble left behind after DFTA replaced them with the Carter Burden Network, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Neither Parker nor any other current or former RISA Board Members are under suspicion for wrongdoing.

Immediately following RISA's ouster, Parker told the Roosevelt Islander blog, "No. There is no investigation being conducted regarding the Roosevelt Island Senior Association," a claim that seems naive, at best, given the circumstances.

But things changed soon.

According to Barbara Parker, the inquiry, headed by DFTA’s inspector general, has focused on
the organization’s finances for May and June of 2016, the Main Street WIRE reported six months later.

Parker was miffed, according to the story because a "DFTA assigned accountant went over RISA’s accounting books monthly during the entire contract period," yet the City insisted that RISA owed as much as $37,000 in misused funds.

The Main Street WIRE went off on its summer hiatus without following up on this story.

Where Did the Money Go?

A good place to start is an explanation of where it came from.

Until last June, RISA had two distinct revenue sources. First, the group received funding from government, largely from DFTA for running Senior Center programs, and locally from RIOC out of Public Purpose Funds.

A second revenue stream came from dues paying members who benefited from free programs at the Senior Center and from charges for exercise and other activities not paid for by DFTA.

The felony charges against Townsend coupled with DFTA's claim that money is owed to the City agency suggest that the missing money came from the bucket filled by DFTA and RIOC.

DFTA cut all funding to RISA in July, 2016, but RIOC continued to send cash to the group after approval by a Residents Association Committee that responded to a pitch by Townsend.

It's unclear if RIRA or RIOC were fully aware of the ongoing investigation or the misappropriation of funds when they green-lighted a new round of funding this year or if RISA or DFTA advised them of what was going on - or if either local group asked.

In a recent, RIOC Board decision to give RISA $12,000, a move strongly contested by some community activists, Members Margie Smith and David Kraut supported RISA's request while Michael Shinozaki firmly voted, "No."

RIOC's Board seemed to be moved by RISA's providing after hours and weekend services for seniors that are otherwise unavailable. CBN's contract covers only weekdays, and no other group appears ready to take on the responsibilities.

It's likely that Parker's respected position as a trusted longtime resident and participant in countless community activities also played into the decision.

But with the charges against Townsend, RISA's longtime mainstay as Program Director, confirmed, reconsideration of funding may be necessary in light of the likely past misuse within RiSA.