The former head of one of New York’s largest homeless shelter operators pleaded guilty on Monday to pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors as part of a a scheme that lasted for years, as homelessness in the city hit record numbers.
Victor Rivera, the founder and former chief executive of the nonprofit Bronx Parent Housing Network, admitted to taking bribes from contractors working with the organization and laundering the money through entities that he controlled, according to the city’s investigation department.
As part of the plea deal, Mr. Rivera is expected to face jail time and, according to federal court documents, he has agreed to give up $1.2 million.
“It was a very stupid thing that I did,” Mr. Rivera said during his plea in Manhattan federal court, according to a transcript of the proceedings. “That was stupid. Greed.”
The case marked a steep downfall for a man whose power, influence and wealth grew with the number of people living in the city’s homeless shelters and on the streets. Since 2017, Mr. Rivera’s organization has received more than $274 million in city funding to operate shelters.
He was arrested weeks after a New York Times investigation last year showed he led the group with impunity: Ten women, including women and homeless employees, accused him of sexual assault and harassment, while Mr. Rivera also enriched himself with money intended for his non-profit organization, the Times found.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Mr. Rivera in March, saying he used some of the money to pay the mortgage on his personal home. Mr. Rivera owned a $780,000 home with a heated pool and waterfall in Stony Point, NY, and another home in the Poconos.
“Instead of protecting the city-funded nonprofit he once led, this defendant abused his power, using the nonprofit as a hub for his illicit scheme,” Daniel said. G. Cort, acting commissioner of the city’s investigative department, who investigated the case. with federal prosecutors, said in a statement Monday.
Mr. Rivera, 61, is due to be sentenced on May 6 on one count of honest services wire fraud. His recommended sentence under federal guidelines is three to four years in prison.
“Mr. Rivera accepts full responsibility and feels remorse for his conduct,” said his attorney, Harlan J. Protass. he has accomplished over the past 30 years.”
During his court proceedings on Monday, Mr. Rivera told Judge Sidney H. Stein that while he received bribes, he did not believe he was stealing from the organization or hurting the thousands of people she served. He said he realized he was wrong.
The program lasted from 2013 to 2020, authorities said, as Mr. Rivera became a major player in the city’s enormous social safety net. In public, he frequently invoked a compelling personal story: He said he grew up poor in the South Bronx, even became homeless for a time, and went to jail for possession of drug before changing his life.
He founded the Bronx Parent Housing Network in 2000 on a shoestring budget with members of his church.
But as the city money flowed in, Mr. Rivera’s personal fortune also increased, according to the Times investigation. His salary rose to $306,000 in 2019, and the organization also rented him a Mercedes-Benz with a personalized license plate promoting his charity: BPHN ORG.
He mixed the finances of the nonprofit with for-profit housing companies he owned, offering lucrative contracts to friends and associates and providing jobs for several members of his family, the report revealed. investigation.
“Victor Rivera sought to leverage his position as CEO of a non-profit organization in a very lucrative situation for himself,” Audrey Strauss, then a US attorney in Manhattan, said when the charges were announced for the first time.
A representative for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Authorities have not said which contractors paid Mr. Rivera, exactly how much money he raised or how he laundered the money. But The Times had reported that Mr Rivera started a for-profit business in 2011, Community Outreach Consulting Firm, which provided housing for people living with HIV and AIDS. Former employees of the Bronx Parent Housing Network told The Times that the company shared staff and resources with the nonprofit group. When Mr. Rivera left the consultancy in 2018, his wife, who also worked at the firm, took over.
As homelessness has soared in New York in recent years, the city has contracted dozens of nonprofits to run shelters and provide services. Last year alone, the city awarded $2.6 billion to these groups. But officials have been reluctant to scrutinize nonprofit groups’ finances or end contracts because the city is so reliant on the organizations.
In October, The Times detailed how other executives personally benefited from the homelessness organizations they led, including a chief executive who earned more than $1 million a year.
The city’s Department of Social Services, which oversees homeless shelters, had placed the Bronx Parent Housing Network on an internal watchlist after a whistleblower with the organization told officials in 2017 that Mr. Rivera had engaged in financial irregularities, including hiring members of his family. .
But the city continued to give the group millions of dollars, and Mr. Rivera found ways to benefit himself and his associates.
The Times found, for example, that the Bronx Parent Housing Network awarded $184,000 in maintenance contracts to a friend of Mr. Rivera who had done work on a building that Mr. Rivera personally owned in the Bronx. Mr. Rivera’s organization also directed millions of dollars in rent to a company owned by his former business partner.
Mr Rivera was ousted from his post with the Bronx Parent Housing Network after the Times article was published.
Mr. Rivera had been the subject of another criminal investigation: The Bronx District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into Mr. Rivera following allegations, reported in The Times, of a pattern of misconduct sexual, including assault.
The nonprofit paid a total of $175,000 in confidential settlements in 2017 and 2019 to two former employees who accused Mr. Rivera of sexual harassment and assault, records show. One of them told New York police that Mr. Rivera had forced her to perform oral sex and told her, “No one says no to Daddy.
Mr. Rivera has denied any sexual misconduct. A spokeswoman for the Bronx district attorney said the investigation was closed and Mr. Rivera had not been charged.