Charity chief arrested for looting $900K from needy families

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MELROSE, the Bronx (PIX11) – They ran a charity whose mission is to help build up the neighborhoods and residents of the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, but instead, the executive director and accountant for Nos Quedamos have been arrested for helping themselves to nearly a million dollars.

Yolanda Gonzalez was led out of the NYPD’s 44th precinct Wednesday morning by investigators of the New York State Attorney General’s Office in order to go before a judge on criminal charges that included grand larceny.  Just how grand, according to prosecutors, is stunning.

“They were writing checks to Mrs. Gonzalez, using ATMs [with] the company’s credit card,” said State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.  “I believe she purchased a car for herself using a credit card paid for by the charitable organization.”

Schneiderman said that in total, Gonzalez and her chief financial officer, Joseph Ingenito looted about $900,000 from the charity that she ran, and for which he was the accountant.

That charity, Nos Quedamos, which means, “We Stay” in Spanish, has made a reputation for itself over two decades as a caring organization that has been effective in developing formerly blighted districts of the Melrose section of the South Bronx.

“At one time, it was so lonely,” said lifelong Melrose resident Jose Rivera about the condition of the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s, “It was empty lots, everybody throwing their gabage there, and now that [Nos Quedamos] builds these buildings, it replaced all that.”

In fact, the charity’s main development project, called Melrose Commons, redeveloped, along with state and city authorities, more than two dozen blocks of the community.

In some of those buildings Wednesday, there were statements of disappointment by residents who have been helped not only by Nos Quedamos’s physical improvements to the neighborhood, but by its social programs as well.

“We’ve been living here for a lot of years, and it’s heartbreaking,” said Romel Colon, who for eight years has been a resident of the building on Melrose Avenue that houses Nos Quedamos’s headquarters.  He said he had also been taking classes on coping with cancer that the charity offered in its community center.  Colon’s grandmother, he told PIX11 News, had recently been diagnosed.

The organization was founded in 1992 by Yolanda Garcia, who became legendary in the South Bronx for her extensive work developing new and affordable housing the neighborhood.  Garcia died while on the job in the Nos Quedamos main office in 2005.  Her replacement was her daughter, Yolanda Gonzalez, who investigators arrested Wednesday.

Prosecutors said Gonzalez took over the charity in the worst way.

“Just living the high life with money that was supposed to go to help poor people,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.  “Just taking the money that’s supposed to go to help people in need during hard economic times is just about as low as you can go.”

Gonzalez was granted $150,000 bond or $100,000 cash bail by a judge, while Ingenito received a $50,000 bond and $25,000 bail amount.

The attorney general said that their charity, Nos Quedamos, is a good one whose leaders had gone bad.  Gonzalez and Ingenito have been replaced by the organization’s board of directors.