Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook's efforts to send pork to unlicensed program under scrutiny

Tuesday, July 5th 2011, 4:00 AM

Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
Bryan Smith for News
Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook is awaiting trial on corruption charges.

While awaiting trial on corruption charges, Bronx Councilman Larry Seabrook is trying to steer taxpayer money to an unlicensed, unproven after-school program run by a crony.

The $66 billion budget approved by the City Council last week includes a $10,000 earmark from Seabrook to "Maria Gems," which calls itself an "innovative community program" that provides "music and health nutrition services" to kids after school.

"I found out that children were not eating fruits and vegetables...so I created a healthy nutrition program," said director Johnnie Goff, a nursery school owner and longtime Seabrook supporter who has an unpaid job as the councilman's liaison to the local education council.

A member of Community Board 12 in the Bronx, Goff briefly ran against Seabrook in 2009 before ending her campaign and working for his reelection.

Maria Gems does not appear to be a licensed after-school program, city and state officials say.

It also has not registered as a charity with the state attorney general, meaning it cannot solicit government or private money.

That means Seabrook's efforts to send pork to the program could get snagged by the new screening process City Council Speaker Christine Quinn implemented after a Council slush-fund scandal.

The scandal ensnared several members, including Seabrook, who is awaiting trial on federal corruption charges.

Prosecutors say the charges are tied to more than $1 million in pork-barrel payouts.

Seabrook, who did not return calls for comment, was given fewer pork dollars to distribute than any other Council member - $363,000 compared with four members who spread around more than $1 million each.

Goff runs a licensed preschool in the Bronx called Jade Multi Family Circle, state officials said.

The retired public school teacher admitted she doesn't have a license for Maria Gems - named for her mother - but doubts she'll have trouble getting one.

She said she didn't know she needed to register with the attorney general, but promised to investigate.

She provided letters of recommendation from local political and educational leaders.

If she doesn't get city money, she vowed to use high school students and run the program with volunteers.

"I'm not worried about working with Seabrook because...all those things happened a long time ago," she said. "I don't know the law or discuss that with him. What I do discuss with him is doing things for the children, the parents and the seniors, which he does very well."


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