Buddy, can you spare a dime – for a scam?

Lawsuit claims US homeless charity simply a sham to line owners' pockets

Every cent of loose change helps. For decades that has been the pitch of the United Homeless Organisation (UHO), whose workers operate on dozens of street corners in Manhattan, urging passers-by to help provide food, clothing and hygienic services for the tens of thousands of people in New York without a roof over their heads.

But if the state's top legal officer is to be believed, the charity is nothing but a scam, whose sole beneficiaries are the two people that run it and their workers. In a lawsuit filed this week, Attorney-General Andrew Cuomo claimed their programmes to help the homeless simply do not exist.

Instead, the UHO "exploits the good intentions of people who thought they were helping fund the homeless" to channel money to its principals and workers, who then use the group's non-profit, tax-exempt status "to line their own pockets".

The suit's main targets are Stephen Riley, a former homeless man who runs the UHO out of his apartment near the Bronx zoo, and director Myra Walker. Mr Cuomo says they spent much of the proceeds on personal expenses, including travel, restaurants and shopping, while doing nothing for the homeless.

By the standards of scams in New York, this one is small. The UHO's declared revenues never exceeded $100,000 (£60,000) a year – even though Mr Cuomo said the donations and the fees for Mr Riley and Ms Walker were "grossly under-reported". If Mr Cuomo is right, UHO in practice is no more than a franchise for begging.

Mr Riley set up the body in 1985 and won tax-exempt status in 1993. He now charges workers $15 to $25 (£9 to £15) to rent a table and a jar for a four-hour shift. In return, the lawsuit says, the worker received a tablecloth, a UHO apron, plus an incorporation document from the state of New York, as proof for anyone who asked if it was a legally sanctioned charity. The workers keep everything over the base charge for themselves. Receipts during a shift in peak season can reach $80 (£48), although some workers said they made no more than $10 (£6) for themselves.

Probably because the scheme is relatively small-scale, the state is taking civil rather than criminal action against UHO. The lawsuit seeks a temporary shutdown order, that would lead to permanent closure, and repayment by the two principals of falsely claimed money.

With some 50 tables around Manhattan, each operating for two to three shifts seven days a week, Mr Riley and Ms Walker could have collected well over $100,000 in fees a year, according to some estimates. Yesterday the organisation refused comment on the accusations, and for the second day running its website was down.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam