Dangerous Government/Nonprofit Liaisons: A Readymade TV Movie

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August 19, 2012; Source: New York Post

The New York Post’s opening sentence tells it all: “Bronx Democratic Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera allegedly used a taxpayer-funded nonprofit as her personal piggy bank, installed her unqualified lover as the group’s leader—and then helped him get a fat raise so he could take her on nice dates.” The details are awful. Somehow, Vincent Pinela became executive director of the Bronx Council for Economic Development from 2006 until 2010, just about the same time period during which he was dating Assemblywoman Rivera (he reportedly broke up with her in 2009 and felt that he had to leave his job not long afterwards).

Pinela bluntly told the Post, “I had no background in nonprofits…I shouldn’t have been hired.” Maybe that’s because he was a personal trainer and an insurance salesman, not an economic development expert. During Pinela’s time at the helm, and while they were cohabitating, Rivera made sure that the nonprofit received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds. She also made sure that he got a raise after only three months on the job because, Pinela said, she thought that, as a couple, they “needed to be able to go out and do things.” According to Pinela, he charged their “romantic dinners” to the Bronx Council, he fed work to Rivera’s brother’s construction company, and he made campaign donations to Rivera from the nonprofit’s funds.

The Post article sounds like a made-for-TV love story: the powerful politician falls in love with the younger lothario while she is still married; her husband divorces her as her affections shift to the younger man, clearly something of a hottie as a personal trainer; she installs him in a job and funnels him moneys; they move in together to play house, but she isn’t happy with his limited income and future potential, so she promotes and pushes him…and finally he breaks up with her, and, scorned, she makes it impossible for him to continue at his job; he gets fired by the board and files a sexual harassment suit—but loses, because the alleged harasser, Assemblywoman Rivera, wasn’t an employee of the nonprofit.

Wait, was this a movie starring Michael Douglas as the harassed male employee and Demi Moore as the harasser? No, Demi was Michael’s direct office boss in Disclosure, but what about Judith Light harassing Peter Strauss in that TV movie? Nope, in Men Don’t Tell, Judith and Peter played a married couple. This one is juicier than anything Hollywood could make up, particularly given that Assemblywoman Rivera hired her boyfriend after Pinela to be a $1,100 a week “community relations director” at the same time as he held a full-time job as a gym teacher and coach in Brooklyn. Imagine the casting possibilities with boyfriend number one as a personal trainer and boyfriend number two as a gym teacher.

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. In this case, the moral of the story is that politicians shouldn’t be messing around in any way, shape, or form with nonprofits associated with their family members, boyfriends, or girlfriends. –Rick Cohen