THE BRONX -- Pastor Esther Henry knew the pain of losing a son to violence in the Bronx.
Her 31-year-old son, Norman Lodge, was killed by gunfire in the Melrose Houses in 2012.
Henry said that’s when she started her Inner City Gun Violence and Prevention Corporation.
She said she related to the anguish of Leandra Feliz, who lost her youngest son, Lesandro Guzman-Feliz—known as Junior—in a vicious mob attack caught on surveillance.
“We would pray together,” Henry told PIX11. “It was like sisters. I love her.”
But the relationship suffered when allegations surfaced that Henry was involved with another organization that wasn’t on the up and up.
A group called the New York City Council Community Affairs Bureau recruited Henry as an “Assistant Chief” in April, and membership carried a price.
“I gave him $575 for all this stuff,” Henry said of the group’s founder, R.A. Gregg. “Like, a jacket would be $135, and a badge would be $150.”
Henry is claiming Gregg, who says he is a Doctor of Divinity, drafted the letter for Junior’s parents to sign that would exclude other organizations from forming charities in the teen’s name.
City Councilman Ritchie Torres of the Bronx said he was troubled by Gregg’s organization, because it used official city logos, even though Gregg was never a member of the City Council.
“It always seemed odd to me that he was using city symbols,” Torres said during a press conference this past week.
The organization later changed its name to the New York State Community Affairs Bureau.
Pastor Henry is upset that she’s been criticized on social media, her motives called into question, after involving the Gregg group in a meeting over a charity that would be formed in Junior’s name.
“Junior’s mother asked me to go with her to the meeting,” Henry said. “I didn’t have nothing to hide.”
Now, Henry is being scrutinized for her ties to R.A Gregg, even as she claimed to PIX11 that she was victimized by his group.
Among the items Henry bought from the Gregg organization was a police parking plaque.
When PIX11 reached R.A Gregg Friday evening, he said, “For Esther to say that she’s been duped is a travesty.”
Gregg’s Chief of Staff, Cherynne Caro, took it a step farther.
“If she felt defrauded, why did she continue to be a part of it, once we incorporated," Caro wondered. “She was actually the the one that connected us to Junior’s mom. She wanted us to speak with the family. I was the one that translated.”
Pastor Henry, who’s a social worker and once received a Presidential award from Barack Obama—presented by former Police Commissioner Bratton—wants her name cleared. She sent a resignation message to Gregg in mid-August that was notarized.
“I learned a painful lesson from this,” Henry said.