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Thursday, March 1, 2018

RIOC Releases Roosevelt Island Youth Center Investigation Executive Summary - This Is What It Says

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board of Directors will vote later today on whether or not to approve the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP) as the Youth Center Operator.

As reported January 26:

... The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation announced plans Friday to hire an outside counsel, Bond Shoeneck & King, to investigate allegations made against the operator of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program that was close to being approved for a three-year grant to operate youth programs at a drop-in child care program that requires no state licensure...
Below is the Executive Summary submitted February 27 to the RIOC Board, RIOC President Susan Rosenthal and RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug by attorneys Mark Reinharz and Hilary L. Moreira.

Based on the Executive Summary, this investigation consisted of talking:
... to over 20 individuals...
the exact number not disclosed, some over the phone, again the number not disclosed, including:
... numerous people who advised that they personally witnessed Mr. DeFino make inappropriate comments...
 Again, not disclosed how many people are considered numerous.

It also appears that the attorneys are dismissive of the potential motivations or relationships of those making accusations against Mr. Defino but merely accepted their statements as true without further investigation.

It may be that the full report has more detailed info. Perhaps more will be learned at meeting tonight.

Here's the Executive Summary:
On or about January 26, 2018, RIOC requested that Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, investigate allegations against Mr. Charlie DeFino, the Executive Director of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program (RIYP or the Youth Program) and the Youth Program related to Mr. DeFino’s alleged use of inappropriate language, sexual harassment and being under the influence of alcohol while on duty. This investigation was limited in scope to the allegations related to Mr. DeFino’s inappropriate conduct. The investigation did not include a review of whether Mr. DeFino and RIYP were more qualified than Island Kids or any other organization to run the Youth Center, nor did it review the programming offered by RIYP or whether it provides quality services.

Throughout the course of the investigation, over twenty individuals were interviewed, including Mr. DeFino. Most of the interviews were conducted in person, although due to logistics and the unavailability of witnesses, some interviews were conducted by phone.

After conducting the interviews, we believe there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Mr. DeFino did in fact make inappropriate comments on several occasions. There were numerous people who advised that they personally witnessed Mr. DeFino make inappropriate comments and they were able to describe such incidents with great specificity and detail. These included:
  1. screaming, yelling or cursing at Roosevelt Island residents;
  2. whistling or making offensive comments to women while walking on the street or in public areas;
  3. using racial epithets when referring to children of color; and
  4. making inappropriate remarks to or about children concerning their sexuality.
We are aware that some of the individuals interviewed do not view Mr. DeFino favorably. Indeed, some are former employees and some have established or supported other organizations that provide similar services to those provided or previously provided by RIYP. However, the number of individuals who came forward, the similarity of their complaints and the great level of detail and specificity that each person could describe, lends credibility to the allegations, and makes them difficult to discount. For us to believe that Mr. DeFino did not make any inappropriate remarks, we would also have to believe that all of the individuals making the allegations against Mr. DeFino have fabricated their allegations in a grand conspiracy against him and RIYP. This is simply belied by the evidence that we received and the individuals that we interviewed.

We are aware that Mr. DeFino has a strong following among some members of the Roosevelt Island community. Many believe that he is being targeted by newer, more affluent residents who may not like his style or the way he operates his program. They contend that Mr. DeFino is more interested in helping the children in the community than satisfying the whims of certain parents, and that he always has the best interests of the children at RIYP at heart. Nonetheless, the fact remains that numerous individuals have identified specific comments and actions by Mr. DeFino that a reasonable person would find objectionable. While Mr. DeFino and his supporters posit that these individuals are interested in hurting him for their financial gain, it was conceded that not everyone interviewed has a financial interest in the youth program.

Finally, with regard to whether Mr. DeFino appeared drunk while working at the Youth Program no conclusive finding can be made. While a number of individuals have stated that Mr. DeFino appeared intoxicated and that he was frequently observed drinking at a local restaurant, there is no clear evidence that he was intoxicated while on duty. Mr. DeFino's work hours are unclear and therefore it is uncertain if any intoxication occurred while he was working at the Youth Program.
Roosevelt Island resident Joanne Wolczuk writes today:
The recent calls to replace RIYP are ridiculous, my boys have used this program for the past 8 years for sports, education (SAT Prep), job placement and special events.

I have enrolled my kids in costly on-island and off-island programs only to be disappointed with the quality,  RIYP offers free quality programming for a diverse population of youth.

My respect for the staff and Mr. DeFino is beyond reproach, any issue any time they deliver, my children's lives have been blessed by this program. All these comments about the program and Mr. DeFino are absolutely false, people just want the money and to destroy someone with his record for pennies is just plain wrong.
Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8:05 PM - The RIYP was not approved as the operator of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center at this evening's RIOC Board meeting.

By a vote of 4-3, the RIOC Board voted to withdraw the grant application to operate the Roosevelt Island Youth Center. Withdrawing the grant application was effectively a vote against the RIYP.

The tactic was proposed by Board Chair Alex Valella and supported by Erica Levendosky, both representing NY State, as well as Roosevelt Island resident RIOC Board members Michael Shinozaki and Faye Christian.

Roosevelt Island resident RIOC Board members David Kraut, Margie Smith and Howard Polivy voted against withdrawing the grant application, effectively in favor of the RIYP.

Here's the RIOC Board discussion

and the RIYP supporters leaving after the vote saying "It's a Shame, It's a Shame" and "Gentrification"

Due to this vote, the RIYP Youth Center is expected to close it's doors in a few days.

More to come.

UPDATE 9;55 PM - From RIYP:
Parents, Guardians, Friends, Supporters and Students,

By now, you've probably heard. The RIOC Board has decided to WITHDRAW our RFP application to run the Youth Center.

However, RIYP will not quit so easily.


We will pick up your children from PS/IS 217as normally scheduled.
We will have our cooking class normally scheduled.
We will have our violin class as normally scheduled.

RIYP is exploring its options to remain open to serve YOU and the whole RI community.

We will keep you posted.

Thank you and best regards,

​Charles DeFino & Roy Magsisi
UPDATE 3/2 -

 Roosevelt Island Public At RIOC Board Meeting Last Night

RIYP Board Director Dave Evans writes:
Charlie Defino has an understanding of kids that is enviable. They collectively loved and still love him - - he has the enviable ability to make them feel safe and with a sense of friendship.

Though the Youth Center is construed as a business, he in my view takes it at least equally as a family matter. The ability to relate to the youth, understand the various cultures, advocate on their behalf - - that is Charlie.

The decision-making process used to justify the decision announced, and which was already made much earlier, on the evening of March 1, 2018 will be a case-study for times to come. What a terrible stain on our community.

Under a circumstance of falling off a cliff or being thrown under the bus, my instinct would be to attempt a rescue. The perception left to permeate the Island is that the majority of our decision-makers were not so inclined given the voting recorded.

Further, given that at this time our political environment is strained, especially at the national level, we Islanders must work harder to keep ourselves together. The youth are disappointed, so are the parents. I am disappointed! And, desire to know from RIOC what are the next steps?
RIYP Board Director/ Treasure Steve Kaufman spoke during the RIOC Board meeting Public Session last night

as did Mr Evans and other supporters, adults and kids, of Charlie Defino and RIYP.

During the Public Session, 8 people spoke in support of RIYP, one person spoke against RIYP and one person spoke who did not take a side but said he wanted what was best for the kids.

UPDATE 6:30 PM - RIOC announced today that it will run an interim after school program.

More info here.