accountability

City Probers Flagged Anti-Violence Group Cited After Brownsville Shooting

Man Up! Founder and Executive Director Andre T. Mitchell speaks with staff of "violence interrupters" outside their East New York office, on May 1, 2018.
Man Up! Founder and Executive Director Andre T. Mitchell speaks with staff of “violence interrupters” outside their East New York office, on May 1, 2018. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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A week after a deadly mass shooting at a July street party in Brownsville, Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference and promised the neighborhood $9 million in taxpayer-funded community support.

That included $1 million to hire “violence disruption” groups that intervene in street disputes to help reduce crime. The mayor’s press release quoted Andre Mitchell, director of Man Up!, a group that does this kind of work, praising de Blasio for sending money Brownsville’s way.

But the press release did not mention that, just a few weeks earlier, the mayor’s office had been warned that Man Up! Inc. — which has received millions of dollars in city contracts over the last few years — had serious financial mismanagement issues. City investigators found evidence indicating that Mitchell had used the group to line his pockets and put his family on the payroll, records show.

Over the last two years, more than $15,000 from credit card and delivery sales raised by a Man Up!-run coffee shop in East New York wound up in Mitchell’s personal bank account, according to a June 18 Department of Investigation memo obtained by THE CITY.

A Family Affair

The memo also states that Man Up’s payroll included Mitchell’s daughter, Dominique Yates, as a $65,000-a-year “director of administration,” and his son, DeAndre Yates, as a $30,000-a-year “program instructor.” Mitchell’s half-brother, Joshua Mann, was put on staff at an unspecified salary, and Terry Norfleet — who lived with Mitchell’s cousin, Marvin Mitchell — was hired as “director of programs,” also at an unspecified salary.

The DOI noted that Marvin Mitchell was put on Man Up!’s unpaid board of directors, and that the group’s contract with the city explicitly bars people from supervising immediate family members.

Colby Hamilton, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), said Man Up! and three other nonprofits were in the mayor’s press release “because of their active and instrumental engagement” in a Brownsville-based coalition of community groups formed after the shooting on July 27 that left one man dead and 11 other people wounded.

Hamilton said that, following the DOI report, Man Up! submitted a “corrective action” plan “to strengthen its ability to do important work” and that MOCJ is now working with the group to upgrade its fiscal management.

He praised the group and said it is not precluded from applying for the money promised by de Blasio.

“As a committed anti-violence organization, Man Up has done successful work in East New York as a partner in the Crisis Management System alongside the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence,” Hamilton stated, noting that increased oversight will allow the group “to continue their efforts on the ground as partners with” the mayor’s anti-gun violence initiative.

Since 2012, tax records show that Man Up! has received at least $10.7 million in taxpayer support — mostly from city agencies and the City Council — for its work in “violence disruption” in Brooklyn. Its 2018 tax forms have not yet been made public.

As of June, the group had $6.1 million in active contracts with city agencies, including Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Department of Probation and the Department of Education, for mentoring, community outreach and after school homework help, records show.

Officials brought extra flood lights to Brownsville Park after a mass shooting in July.
Officials brought extra flood lights to Brownsville Park after a mass shooting in July. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Man Up!’s mission also includes paying what Mitchell calls “credible messengers” — usually neighborhood residents convicted of crimes who’ve turned their lives around — to intervene and mediate street disputes before they turn violent.

Mitchell, who was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in 1988 and was paroled in 1992, formed Man Up! In 2007.

In a 2018 Daily News op-ed, he wrote, “It’s our job to show people how to interact, how to respect one another and themselves and iron out differences before it gets to the level where someone is seriously hurt or killed.” He credited his group with preventing “thousands of potential violent incidents.”

Mitchell, 52, declined THE CITY’s repeated requests to discuss the DOI report.

Red Flags Raised

The DOI memo and a review by THE CITY of tax records shed light on the Man Up!’s spending, and Mitchell’s ties to another group that helped his nonprofit.

The memo describes how 2017 and 2018, Man Up! spent more than $29,000 to lease office space from a WeWork location in downtown Brooklyn used only by Mitchell and Man Up!’s number-two executive, James Peterson.

Mitchell told city investigators he used the office as his “executive space” so that he could “bring himself outside of [his] normal work environment” at Man Up!’s East New York headquarters.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice paid half the bill for this “executive space,” although the DOI could find no evidence that the office had approved the expense, the report says.

The Brownsville Playground several weeks after the July 27 shooting.
The Brownsville Playground several weeks after the July 27 shooting. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

THE CITY also found that Man Up! loaned Mitchell $12,200 to buy a car and gave another organization Mitchell once ran, Hip Hop Standup & Vote, a $3,500 no-interest loan, according to the group’s tax forms.

Another nonprofit Mitchell chaired got money from The Related Companies, headed by Steve Ross, the deep-pocketed, Trump-supporting CEO.

In 2013, when Related built the Gateway mall in East New York, the company agreed to fund a $3 million community benefit agreement that was supposed to make sure neighborhood residents got jobs and benefited economically from the project.

The nonprofit East New York Restoration Local Development Corp. was created to handle the money, which would be doled out over six years in $500,000 installments. Mitchell became the board chairman of the LDC, which immediately awarded Man Up! a $200,000-a-year contract for “job referral services” that would total $1.2 million over six years, tax records show.

As of 2016, Mitchell was still sitting on the LDC’s board, according to the group’s tax forms.

Meanwhile, since 2013 Man Up! also has received at least another $1.4 million from the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund for New York City, run by de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, tax records state.

Mitchell told the DOI in June that Man Up! was expecting to enter into another agreement with the fund for more money in July, “pending the outcome of DOI’s investigation.”

‘Fiscal Mismanagement’

Man Up!’s tax forms for 2015, 2016 and 2017 — the latest years available — show the group spent $697,000 on unspecified “consultants” while running up deficits each year ranging from $121,000 to $177,000.

When he was confronted by DOI, Mitchell contended he was “unaware” that money from the Man Up Cafe began flowing into his bank account in Spring 2016 “until after he received DOI’s subpoena” last November. The DOI report states that as of June he had repaid about half of the $15,000 to Man Up!. The group’s employment of Mitchell’s son and daughter also ceased after DOI’s subpoena arrived, the report states.

Taxpayer money has continued to flow to Man Up! over the years, even as it’s been red-flagged several times by different city agencies for questionable financial record-keeping.

In the last two fiscal years, 2017 and 2018, for instance, Department of Probation officials answered “no” to the question of whether Man Up! kept “accurate, complete and timely payment requisitions.”

And during a recent site visit, MOCJ noted that the group “has been having difficulty processing invoices on time and have been requesting multiple expedited payments.”

In June, the DOI sent a letter to MOCJ Director Elizabeth Glazer detailing investigators’ finding and warning her of Man Up!’s “fiscal mismanagement.”

DOI Inspector General Andrew Sein recommended that MOCJ require Man Up! to produce a “corrective action plan” to ensure it can properly spend taxpayer dollars, and correct any prior errors in its tax documents.

In a June 21 response to the DOI — about a month before de Blasio put Mitchell in his press release on spending $9 million in Brownsville — MOCJ’s General Counsel Susan Sommer made clear the agency “intends to accept the recommendations proposed in your letter.”

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