Hillary was right: It takes a village

How Roosevelt Island Failed Its Most Vulnerable Neighbors, Part 1

Updated 11 weeks ago David Stone
How Roosevelt Island Failed Its Most Vulnerable Neighbors, Part 1

In her 1996 book It Takes a Village, Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote about how a community’s many influences shape the lives of its children. Here on Roosevelt Island, we’ve seen the ugly reverse. Government, media, law, social groups and more pitched in, some unwittingly, some selfishly, to steal from, harm and neglect seniors over a long period. The losses will never be recovered, and sadly, the misdeeds continue.

The first thing they slid in front of me, after we took seats at the long table and the high stack of photocopied records was piled in front of us, were two canceled payroll checks. The were dated the same day. 

Together, they totaled over $5,000.

Both were forged, signatures so badly faked that one surname was misspelled.

Although the signatures were so alike in characteristics an amateur could see they were executed by the same person, Amalgamated Bank cashed them and dozens of others anyway.

The largest of the checks, drawn off an account belonging to the Roosevelt Island Senior Association, was made out to Rema Townsend, their Program Director.

RISA rules required two signatures on checks as well as Board approval, and there both were: RISA President Dolores Green and Treasurer Padmini Arya.

Except neither signed the checks.

Failure #1: Amalgamated Bank

“I have reviewed business records of Amalgamated Bank for accounts in the name of Roosevelt Island Seniors Association.… They show that approximately 109 checks drawn on those accounts were made payable to Arnold Williams” reads the felony warrant for Rema Townsend. “…91 of those checks, with an aggregate value of over $18,500, were deposited into defendant's bank account.”

 

Suspicions raised, a resident concerned about suspiciously deteriorating service at the Senior Center escorted RISA Treasure Padmini Arya to Amalgamated and asked to go over a single month’s checking account records.

“How many forged checks did you find?” I asked.

“Fifty. Some even misspelled the last name.”

In just one month, fifty forgeries. Cashed.

But it didn’t stop there.

Not long after, Board Members from what they later dubbed “New RISA” trooped to the bank and demanded money from an account for which none of them had signatory authority.

The money was transferred to another account and only quick action by a legitimate account holder got it back. 

$6,000 belonged to Department for the Aging, money invested but not legitimately spent for activities at the Senior Center where RISA had already been kicked out.

That seemed to be of no concern to “New RISA”

Forgeries As Casual As Coffee Breaks

The first time Padmini “Bubu” Arya went to the Department for the Aging, in 2010, it was because, as Treasurer, she became aware of significant money being paid out of RISA’s accounts that had not been approved by the Board.

No one is sure why, but DFTA chose to do nothing. 

By then, RISA Program Director Rema Townsend was drawing money, not just from RISA, but also from businesses launched in her assumed name, Rema Rozay, businesses that operated at times inside a closed room at the Senior Center and used RISA resources.

There was Liaison to the Stars where, as early as 2007, Townsend billed herself as an ad placement consultant; a hair extension business using her alias, Rema Rozay; and a hosting service for “bomb parties” aboard expensive charter yachts; and finally, two years spent full time as a home healthcare provider, all while raking in around $70,000 per year from RISA.

 

Arya’s second complaint to DFTA 2013 resulted from a chance encounter.

She bumped into a RISA contractor at the Senior Center. The contractor thanked her for the check he’d just gotten from Townsend. Trouble was, Arya had not signed the check which, according to the rules, must be cosigned by Dolores Green, who was not present at the time either.

Furious, Arya burst into Townsend’s office and confronted her.

Townsend apologized, explaining that the contractor was owed and needed the money. She’d never, she said, forged her signature before and would never do so again.

But by the time she got fired, Townsend had forged hundreds more.

Failure #2: Main Street WIRE

Among the Main Street WIRE’s many failures in informing the community in which it claims to be independent is cooperation in RISA efforts to cover up wrongdoing and fulfill a pledge to smear whistleblowers as a counterattack.

One reason Arya held back from making her case more vehemently were threats that, if she spoke up, she would end up blamed for thefts at the Senior Center.

The WIRE was happy to help out.

In it’s August 26th, 2017, edition, WIRE Editor and Publisher Briana Warsing continued an established pattern, allowing RISA President Barbara Parker to smear Arya without challenge.

Warsing had, ironically, earlier given Rema Townsend the same privilege.

After excusing herself from any and all responsibility ("Before I came on board it (forging checks) was an official practice. It was a done deal," which she did nothing about), Parker explained that Arya left 50 blank checks with her signature behind whenever she left for month-long stays in India.

Arya, Parker tells the WIRE, "really should have been overseeing and questioning the validity of any checks she was putting her name to... the checks that Arya signed in advance, she never questioned," as if the hundreds of times Arya's signature was forged weren't the real issue.

But telling less than half the story may be worse than lying.

What Warsing fails to add and maybe just didn’t have the smarts to ask is that Arya signed the checks on two important conditions: 1) They would be used exclusively to pay legitimate expenses that would otherwise fall into arrears in her absence, and 2) each required a second signature, usually that of RISA President Dolores Green, as well as Board approval.

Arya never signed a check irresponsibly as Parker suggests while - oddly - never once criticizing Townsend.

Did Warsing intend to conspire with Parker to characterize Arya as careless and irresponsible when it was clearly not the truth, or was there some other reason for maligning a generous community volunteer not suspected of any crimes?

Whatever the reason, a hurtful untruth was published and distributed throughout the Island, one that scars Arya unfairly.

The WIRE, maybe unintentionally, helped fulfill the promised threat that kept Arya quiet until she had no choice but to take the evidence to someone farther up the food chain than DFTA, which had already flubbed her complaints twice.

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