During the mid-2010s, New York City paid a nonprofit in the Bronx more than $10 million to house, feed and provide social services to families at a 100-room homeless shelter.
According to the nonprofit’s executive director, Ethel Denise Perry, here is where much of the money went: Her gym membership. Her car payments. Shopping sprees at Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Ferragamo, Neiman Marcus, Manolo Blahnik, Tiffany’s and other luxury retailers. Her brother and nephew, whom she put on the payroll of the nonprofit, Millennium Care.
All together, Ms. Perry, 66, admitted using money the city paid Millennium Care to cover over $1 million in personal credit card bills, according to a plea agreement with the state attorney general’s office she signed on Friday. She took $2,394,169 from Millennium Care beyond her official salary.
Even after the attorney general’s office came after her for failing to file taxes three years in a row, she kept defrauding the authorities, belatedly reporting, for instance, $31,358 in income for 2015 when Millennium Care actually paid her over $700,000, according to the agreement.
Ms. Perry was able to use the nonprofit as her personal piggy bank in part because it had no board of directors, failed to file required financial reports with the state and the I.R.S., and, according to the plea agreement, “carried out its business in a persistently illegal manner.”
And so Ms. Perry, who owns two houses in the Bronx and also runs a dance studio, becomes the latest city homeless shelter operator found to have committed fiscal wrongdoing.
In the plea bargain, reached in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Ms. Perry pleaded guilty to tax fraud and Millennium Care pleaded guilty to grand larceny. Ms. Perry was sentenced to five years’ probation and must pay $1.1 million in taxes and penalties. Millennium Care will pay a fine of $2,394,169 — the exact amount that Ms. Perry overpaid herself — and will be dissolved.
“Stealing money that is earmarked for people experiencing homelessness is as immoral as it is illegal,” Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement about Ms. Perry on Monday.
The shelter is now run by one of the city’s biggest shelter providers, Acacia Network, and continues to house families without minor children, as it did during Ms. Perry’s time. In 2013, Acacia charged in a lawsuit that Millennium Care owed it $654,000 for social services it provided at the shelter. Millennium eventually paid the money, an Acacia spokeswoman said.
Ms. Perry, whose biography on the site of her dance studio, Millennium Dance Company, says she studied with Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham, was one of founding directors of Millennium Care when it formed in 1992.
Ms. Perry’s lawyer, Frank L. Perrone Jr., said that she had already paid over $200,000 of the back taxes she owed and noted that notwithstanding Ms. James’s comments, only Millennium Care, not Ms. Perry, had pleaded guilty to larceny. Mr. Perrone is also Millennium Care’s lawyer.
The nonprofits that the city contracts with to run shelters have been so rife with self-dealing, nepotism and conflicts of interest that Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered an audit of every nonprofit group in the system. Nine of the 62 groups that run shelters are on an internal city “watch list.”
Earlier this year, for example, the former head of one of the city’s biggest shelter networks, Victor Rivera, was charged with pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from contractors.
Last year, the city filed a suit accusing a nonprofit called Childrens Community Services, which operated 28 shelters, of defrauding it by funneling payments to subcontractors that did not provide the supplies and services they were paid for.
On Monday, the city cut ties with another of its biggest shelter operators, CORE Services Group, after a New York Times investigation found that CORE’s chief executive, Jack A. Brown III, steered millions of dollars from the city to for-profit companies he controlled and paid himself more than $1 million a year.
Amy Julia Harris contributed reporting.