Electeds support investigation into BronxNet


A petition by recently ousted BronxNet board chair Paul Gentile has caught the eye of the Attorney General Letitia James. And if her charities bureau does decide to investigate, the move has support from some very powerful political backers, which has hung a dark cloud over the non-profit cable public service entity.

Gentile, a former prosecutor and Bronx district attorney, claims BronxNet suffers from blatant conflict of interests and self-dealing when it comes to the board he led for decades.

“It’s a great cultural institution, and it’s in serious danger of extinction,” Gentile saidd. “The reasons behind that are because of a number of reasons.”

First, money from cable companies is already disappearing because more and more people are finding their video content online.

“The second part that’s equally important is that we are wasting taxpayers’ money at the present time because of mismanagement and conflicts of interest,” he said.

One of those conflicts came when BronxNet hired a lobbying firm with generational ties to a board member, Gentile said. Another came from a partnership with a financial advisory firm that another board member was led as its chief executive, and remained an employee of.

Consultiva Wealth Management is based in Puerto Rico, but was founded by Myrna Rivera who, according to Gentile, administered endowment funds for Lehman College before joining the board.

While Rivera maintains she received no compensation from Consultiva as she guided more than $7 million in BronxNet investments, Gentile believes Rivera prioritized Consultiva over BronxNet. An attorney told the New York Daily News she divested her interest in Consultiva, and is now only a salaried employee.

The other alleged conflict came from efforts to retain a lobbying firm that Gentile said was closely associated with another board member, Nick Lugo. Although Lugo openly acknowledged this conflict, Gentile said, he still voted to approve the firm.

Gentile said he openly objected to both conflicts but a statement from his old board claims otherwise — at least when it came to Consultiva.

“BronxNet finds these false allegations made by our former chair disturbing,” Gentile’s successor, Edwin Mejia, said. “It is particularly confusing that the former board chair who led BronxNet as chair for 30-plus years voted to approve and championed hiring Consultiva, now has an issue with BronxNet utilizing this firm.”

Mejia claims Gentile is trying to “create conflicts of interest,” when instead multiple board members referred agencies that were vetted by staff members.

Gentile not only originally voted “yes” to using Consultiva, the board said, but the then-chair reached out to the attorney general’s office in 2016 to confirm there was no conflict of interest.

“There is ample evidence from board minutes to emails that show these allegations are false,” Mejia said. “Furthermore, that begs the question of why the former board chair is changing his mind now that he is no longer chair.”

Mejia called a special meeting last September, according to Gentile, where he says Gentile was removed from the board. But Gentile says even this violated the board’s own bylaws, and was not recorded, as it should have been.

“You have to call a meeting,” Gentile said.

“But most importantly, you have to allege wrongdoing, and then you take your vote. And it has to be two-thirds of the whole board, which they couldn’t do.”

One former board member backing Gentile is Michael Heller, a longtime leader with the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democraiic Club, who said he was removed for supporting Gentile.

“It was a very strange meeting,” Heller said. “And the procedure was for each current board member to vote whether to return other board members. Obviously, it was designed to have (Gentile) leave the board.”

BronxNet leadership denies board members were removed inappropriately, adding that state non-profit laws require boards to hold regular elections with maximum terms of five years. They say Gentile resisted holding elections in spite of the five-year maximum term, and it wasn’t just Gentile and Heller not re-appointed in that meeting.

Two local electeds who have worked closely with Heller over the years — Councilman Eric Dinowitz and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz — are backing an investigation by the state.

“Obviously, the allegations of mismanagement of finances facing BronxNet are concerning,” the councilman said. “They should obviously be looked into so that we can continue this vital community service.”

The Assemblyman believes some disturbing allegations have been made, and it’s important to learn the facts — for better or worse.

“I only know things, obviously, second-hand, so I’m not in a position to make a personal judgment,” Dinowitz said.

“But there have been serious questions raised. And if there’s an investigation, we’ll get to the truth one way or the other.

“So, I don’t see any objection for there to be an investigation, because if there have been things done that shouldn’t be done, then we certainly want to get to the bottom of that and address it on the one hand. But on the other hand, if everything is fine, then an investigation will show that everything is fine.

“So, either way, the attorney general looking into the allegations makes sense.”

Gentile wants James to appoint a monitor, similar to how she handled the National Rile Association.

“It’s fair, the attorney general’s charities bureau — which has a long history of independence and solid public service — will take a look at the allegations,” he said. “Is there self-dealing? Is there conflicts of interest? And then if they find that there is, then they’ll appoint a monitor. And what the monitor does is it replaces the board, completely replaces. It can get the funds back.

“I think it’s an amazing remedy.”

The state attorney general nor the borough return calls for comment. BronxNet’s board provided minutes to meetings to The Riverdale Press, but late in the reporting process.

“While the board finds these false allegations disturbing,” Mejia said, “it has nothing to hide and reached out to the New York state attorney general’s office to communicate our eagerness to bring a close to these false allegations about a Bronx institution.”

CLARIFICATION: While Paul Gentile and Michael Heller say they were removed from the BronxNet board,  representatives of the board maintain they were simply not re-appointed to another term. That distinction was not made clear in a story that appeared in the March 21 edition.

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