Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The BUILD lawsuit: how group (improperly) got office space from Tracy Boyland in 2004 in exchange for campaign help

At noon on Friday, July 11 is a crucial hearing in the federal lawsuit filed by trainees in a coveted pre-apprentice training program (PATP) promised in the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) via jobs-development group BUILD, or Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, now defunct after developer Forest City Ratner stopped funding it. U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, 225 Cadman Plaza E., Judge John Gleeson, Courtroom 6C South.

The trainees--20 of 36--charge that BUILD CEO James Caldwell falsely promised that, upon finishing the 15-week program, they'd get jobs and union cards. They seek damages for that and seek recovery for weeks of unpaid labor on the training site Caldwell agreed to--an actual job assigned to the contractor, Gausia Jones, who was teaching part of the program. 

The hearing concerns motions for summary judgment, as defendant Forest City wants most of the case against it dismissed, which would leave the plaintiffs far less likely to recover any major sums. At issue is Forest City's relationship with BUILD: how much was the non-profit was acting on the developer's behalf and as a "joint employer," a key legal test.

I'll write at length about the case at length tomorrow, but will first share some relevant items.

Caldwell deposition
Legal papers in the pending lawsuit filed by would-be construction workers against BUILD and Forest City Ratner reveal a creative, underhanded, and likely illegal strategy used by BUILD to get office space.

BUILD didn't start to get paid by Forest City Ratner until September 2005, but until then survived on volunteer efforts and the wiles of its members.

In a deposition, BUILD's Caldwell (also a named defendant in the lawsuit), explained that in 2004 the organization "cut a deal with Tracy Boyland," a City Council Member then running for Congress against incumbent Major Owens, to occupy office space on Washington Avenue.

"Yeah, we cut a deal with her," Caldwell said, as shown in the excerpts at right. "We became creative. We know we needed space, you know. They had a campaign office. They had some open space in it. We said, We work with you, you know, if you provide us space."

What did BUILD do in return?

"We, you know, we helped, you know--when we wasn't, you know, when we was off from BUILD in the evenings, we worked on her campaign," Caldwell responded.

Was that improper?

That's not quite kosher. As of 8/30/04, according to the New York Secretary of State (bottom), BUILD was registered as a nonprofit organization.

Strict rules bar nonprofit organizations from partisan campaign work. (And I'm pretty sure they bar those organizations from having separate alter egos to do such work, as BUILD apparently had a year later--and possibly in 2004, as well.)

Caldwell deposition
According to the Internal Revenue Service, Section 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to conduct non-partisan voter educa­tion activities and can participate in non-partisan get-out-the-vote drives. "On the other hand, voter education or registration activities conducted in a biased manner that favors (or opposes) one or more candidates is prohibited."

A pattern, for Boyland

Boyland was no paragon of ethics. As Wayne Barrett wrote in the 8/10/04 Village Voice:
Tracy Boyland's filings for her 2003 City Council and 2004 congressional committees reveal campaigns so outrageously financed that they are an open invitation to state and federal investigators.
In 2006, Boyland would later run a bizarrely opaque campaign for state Senate, unsuccessfully challenging Velmanette Montgomery.

A pattern, for BUILD

As it happens, it wasn't the only time BUILD--or its members, reconstituted under the fig leaf of a different organization--skated on thin ice regarding partisan campaign work.

As Lumi Rolley wrote in October 2005 on No Land Grab about revelations regarding BUILD, BUILD's got the CLAP?:
The only person telling the truth around here is the one person who really needs the work, a resident of Brooklyn Women's Shelter in Brownsville. In Juan Gonzalez's column, she mentioned that BUILD pays well and that she worked for them before, during the election. At that time she reported to and picked up her pay at BUILD, but, to be fair (dang, here we go, being fair, when everyone else gets to lie), the worker was paid by a company called, ironically, Community Leadership for Accountable Politics (CLAP!).
Forest City Ratner denies having any knowledge of a group called CLAP. A Google search for CLAP turns up an Erik Engquist column from July, 2004 that identifies CLAP as a group "running candidates in Ft. Greene and Prospect Heights." The campaigns were managed by "local politico James Caldwell, the president of the pro-development group BUILD." Also, the lawyer listed on the NY State Department web site for CLAP is a name we heard before, Sharai Erima, Esq., the lawyer who erroneously scribbled in "$5 Million Forest City Ratner" on BUILD's IRS 1023 form.
What Engquist failed to point out, but Gonzalez did, is that IRS rules forbid tax-exempt organizations from campaigning for candidates. And guess what: the State Department web site identifies CLAP's "entity status" as "not for profit." Oops!
Can Brooklynites fairly conclude that Ratner has paid for office space for their own astroturf organization and a group running candidates for public office?
Note: I've since gotten confirmation that CLAP was the political arm of BUILD.


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