William Rivera is one of eight candidates running to replace Ruben Diaz Sr. in the City Council, representing Parkchester, Castle Hill and Soundview in The Bronx.
He’s also the $120,000-a-year district manager of local Community Board 9 — where nearly four years ago leaders filed a formal ethics complaint alleging he deposited thousands of dollars from a board fundraising event into a police nonprofit he led.
It’s not the first time Rivera, 39, has faced accusations of taking in funds to nonprofit organizations without accounting for them: A 2007 Daily News investigation found he could not describe the whereabouts of $500,000 in post-9/11 donations sent to his Bronx volunteer fire company.
Rivera declined to comment Thursday on what he called “unsubstantiated allegations” when contacted by THE CITY.
CB9’s volunteer chair, Nicholas Himidian Jr., asked the city Conflicts of Interest Board to investigate in a September 2017 letter, printed on community board stationery with his name and title over Rivera’s.
In the request for “a thorough audit” of the community board’s finances, Himidian asserted CB9 sponsored a carnival that raised more than $46,000, destined for a new nonprofit organization the board had formed to help pay for its programs.
But Rivera deposited little more than $37,000 into the group’s bank account, records show — leaving it $9,905 short.
A ‘Lack of Interest’
In an email to Himidian, Rivera acknowledged he had deposited more than $6,000 of that with his own nonprofit — the Auxiliary Police Supervisors Association — “for helping with prior dinners and so many other initiatives in CB9,” including toy drives and anti-graffiti work, he said.
“I have no problem putting the monies back, but I want to make sure this is what everyone wants,” Rivera wrote Himidian in another email.
Himidian told the conflicts board that Rivera informed him that the remaining $3,000 went “for donation to the EMS, NYPD and FDNY” for their help at the carnival.
Himidian and three members of the board’s finance committee, including committee chair Venus Williams, gave Rivera two days to return the funds. They took their concerns to the Conflicts of Interest Board, Himidian wrote, after Rivera failed to meet their deadline.
Himidan and Williams did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Since the lack of interest and concern from Mr. Rivera and his avoidance to comply with the instructions to return the funds, the Finance Committee unanimously agreed that there is no other course of action but to have Mr. Rivera investigated by independent counsel to ensure that the funds were not misused,” Himidian wrote in the complaint.
A spokesperson for the Conflicts of Interest Board declined to comment.
Helen Greenberg of the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., which appoints community board members, told THE CITY: “The community board executive committee was properly advised by our general counsel that the matter was being investigated by the New York City Conflict of Interest Board.”
She added: “Borough President Diaz firmly believes that when any allegation involving potential fiscal impropriety is made, it is imperative that the issue be investigated by an independent third party to assure that the tenets of due process are afforded to all parties involved.”
THE CITY has been unable to determine the outcome of the investigation, leaving it unclear whether the allegations were substantiated or dismissed.
Each of the city’s 59 community boards is run by unpaid volunteers with the support of a small administrative staff, topped by a district manager. The City Charter directs a district manager to handle complaints about city services, preside at certain meetings and carry out duties assigned by the board.
While City Council districts typically overlap with multiple community boards, CB9 has almost entirely the same boundaries as Council District 18.
Rivera’s expansive role as the district manager of CB9, where he earned a $120,000 salary in 2020, has served as fodder for rival candidates.
In a tweet, Council hopeful Michael Beltzer accused Rivera of sending out a Community Board 9 newsletter for self-promotion.
Mailed to district residents a month before the upcoming June 22 primary, the newsletter shows more than a dozen photos of Rivera with his name prominently displayed next to each — including one of him speaking at a news conference alongside Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-The Bronx).
CB9’s Twitter account also frequently features Rivera’s photo and name, showing him participating in community events.
Another Council candidate, Amanda Farías, retweeted Beltzer’s tweet. The CB9 Twitter account then blocked Farías — along with a constituent who clicked “like.”
How is it that the Community Board I reside in just blocked me on Twitter? For no reason I may add.— Amanda Farías (@AmandaFariasNYC) May 26, 2021
Is it because the District Manager is running in the race for CD18 and is using community board resources and time for politics?
A 9/11 Windfall
Rivera, who is well connected in Bronx Democratic politics, has raised more than $60,000 for his run, along with $160,000 in public matching dollars.
He is endorsed by current Bronx borough president Diaz Jr., who is leaving politics at the end of his term this year. Rivera also has the support of unions representing firefighters and EMTs. Councilmember Diaz Sr. has not yet made an endorsement in the race to succeed him.
Last month, mayoral candidate Ray McGuire went on a walk-through of the district with Rivera and visited his campaign office, The Bronx Chronicle reported.
Rivera, a former EMT and nightclubs and papaya stand owner who grew up in the district, took the paid CB9 job after a stint as the board’s volunteer chair.
The job opened in 2015 following controversy over how the board’s previous district manager combined his board role with his own nonprofit and outside activities.
In 2013, the Conflicts of Interest Board fined longtime District Manager Francisco Gonzalez $7,500 after it determined he had used the community board’s staff, office and equipment to organize the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade during his on-duty hours.
At the time, a spokesperson for Diaz Jr. called the abuse “a violation of the public trust” and urged Gonzalez to resign. It took another two years and the mass replacement of board members by Díaz Jr. for the board to vote Gonzalez out.
Rivera was reportedly the city’s youngest district manager at the time of his appointment by the board.
His paid CB9 post came nearly a decade after the Daily News flagged questions about his handling of hundreds of thousands of dollars donated following 9/11 to a Bronx volunteer firehouse he led, Aviation Volunteer Fire Co., after its truck was damaged during recovery efforts at Ground Zero.
More than $500,000 poured in — and could not be completely accounted for, the Daily News reported. The paper’s investigation also found that Rivera sold a fire truck donated by Virginia firefighters to replace the one damaged near the World Trade Center to a scrap dealer in Alabama.
In 2002, Rivera opened the nightclub Casbah Lounge — only to see it closed by law enforcement the following year for selling alcohol to minors, according to the report.
Then Rivera opened a papaya drink stand, which closed after less than a year in business and left him and his father with a judgment for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent.
Rivera, then 25, denied any wrongdoing with the firehouse funds: “It’s not a stupid question to ask, ‘You guys had almost $500,000 in the bank and all of sudden you sold everything?’”
Emails back and forth between Rivera and CB9’s board chair show tense disagreements about how to run the board’s new nonprofit group.
Wrote Rivera to Himidian, justifying his rerouting funds to other groups instead of the community board’s nonprofit account: “Note: this is a private foundation with private funds ran by a board of three. We decide where the money goes and we can donate to any charity without reason,” he wrote. “Happens everyday. No one can say anything.”
Hindman pushed back, urging focus on fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission.
“I am under the impression (call it a gut instinct) that we are going to be audited and want to make certain that all goes well. This is about transparency and nothing else,” Hindman replied. “At no time was I aware of or agreed to deposit a check for less than the original amount.”
He added: “In regards to your note about this is a private fund, I do not agree. This is a Board Fund that was established to supplement the board’s commitment to provide outstanding and unique opportunities for our community.”
By the time Himidian Jr. wrote to the COIB on September 20, 2017, Rivera had not returned the money, according to the complaint.