Additional reporting by Yoav Gonen
With shootings on the rise in New York City, Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday named as his new “gun czar” the head of a taxpayer-funded “violence interrupter” nonprofit whom investigators had found used the group to line his pockets and employ his relatives.
Andre Mitchell, executive director of the nonprofit Man Up Inc, will serve as volunteer co-chair of a task force addressing gun violence as part of Adams’ campaign to reverse the trend of mayhem that’s plagued city streets since just prior to the pandemic.
Since 2017, Mitchell’s group has won nearly $20 million in city contracts to perform “anti-gun violence” work from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, an arrangement that greatly expanded even after the city Department of Investigation (DOI) in 2019 alleged financial improprieties and nepotism at Man Up. The most recent extension ends July 1.
And during the time City Hall extended the length and amount of the contract, there’s no record that Man Up filed tax documents with the state Attorney General’s Office or the Internal Revenue Service as is required of active nonprofits. The last document on file dates back to tax year 2018.
Man Up is one of several groups that rely on neighborhood leaders — some of whom have been convicted of crimes themselves but have done their time and are turning their lives around — to intervene with potential shooters before they act, by winning their trust and cooperation.
The Biden administration recently embraced this local tactic, announcing it would target increased funding for “evidence-based community violence intervention programs.”
Following the announcement of his appointment on the steps of City Hall, Mitchell admitted, regarding the issues DOI raised, “We didn’t know everything so we learned from our mistakes and we kept moving.”
But he also questioned how the financial impropriety and nepotism DOI cited are relevant now.
“After 14 years we had an inquiry. Understandable. It came about. We complied. We listened to whatever their recommendations was. We kept on moving. We continued to do the work. There was no criminality. There was no illegality. There was none of those things discovered. I don’t understand why is that still an issue when in fact we’ve actually grown since 2019?”
Adams, too, dismissed questions about the DOI findings, noting that he himself hired his own brother as a security advisor at City Hall. He also stressed the urgency of tackling gun violence: “You’re talking about DOI? I’m talking about DOA. People are dying.”
Added the mayor: “Some people say, ‘But what about his background?’ What about all our backgrounds? We are not looking for a nun. We’re looking for someone to be in the streets and embrace our people. We’re looking for the right person for the job. And AT (Mitchell) is the right person for the job.”
Adams is assembling the task force at a moment of national reckoning on how to tackle gun violence, supercharged by mass killings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas — and with a pending Supreme Court decision threatening to upend New York City’s own gun permit restrictions.
During his mayoral campaign Adams vowed to reverse a surge in crime. Yet since his arrival at City Hall in January, Adams has struggled to stem a rising trend of shootings that included gunfire that injured 10 in a subway car and the shooting murder of a passenger just days later.
There have been 502 shooting incidents this year through May 29, down slightly from the same period last year but up significantly from 311 in 2020 and 270 in pre-pandemic 2019.
Starting under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Mitchell’s group has received millions of dollars in city contracts to help quell violence by attempting to intervene with individuals and groups that are behind the spike.
But he’s also attracted the attention of the city DOI, which in June 2019 issued a finding that after an extensive probe, they had discovered” potential violations” of Man Up’s contract with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
As first reported by THE CITY, DOI determined that some $15,000 in proceeds from a youth employment program that the group ran on Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn wound up in Mitchell’s personal bank account. Mitchell told investigators he was unaware of this deposit until he received a subpoena from DOI.
DOI also found Man Up had employed several members of Mitchell’s family, including a daughter and a son. The progeny exited the payroll after Man Up received a DOI subpoena, although Mitchell told investigators they left for “personal reasons.” Man Up’s director of finance also identified another Man Up employee as Mitchell’s “half brother.”
The group’s contract with the city specifically prohibited supervisors from overseeing relatives, and MOCJ told DOI that Mitchell did not seek permission to place his children on the payroll.
Mitchell also paid more than $29,000 to rent out a WeWork office that he admitted he only used “infrequently” so that he could “bring himself outside of [his] normal work environment.” DOI questioned the “efficiency” of this expenditure.
DOI recommended that MOCJ increase oversight of Man Up going forward, ensuring that the organization acted in compliance with conflict of interest rules and closely watching expenditures to make sure they’re effective.
Diane Struzzi, spokesperson for DOI, said that MOCJ “accepted and implemented the recommendations we made to them regarding Man Up. And MOCJ provided DOI evidence of implementation.”
But state charity bureau records show that while Man Up has been receiving millions of dollars in city contracts, the group has not filed required federal tax forms with the state attorney general for the last three years. The last filing is for tax year 2018 and was signed in November 2019 by Mitchell, who was listed as executive director with a $165,000 salary.
The tax forms also raise a question about how Mitchell spells his name: with one L or two. On tax forms filed with the state attorney general, it’s two Ls. With the records filed with the IRS it’s one L.
Mitchell did not respond to THE CITY’s questions about this. The state attorney general’s charity unit usually works with groups to get up to date with their filings, but if that doesn’t work they can impose fines and even revoke a group’s nonprofit status.
Man Up’s work with MOCJ have focused on what’s described in records as “anti-gun violence.” Its 2017 contract has been extended again and again, most recently in July. To date Man Up has been awarded $19.1 million for this work, with $12.7 million spent to date.
On Thursday, Adams made clear that addressing gun violence was a priority for his team, noting that Mitchell will chair a task force that will include Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell and all five deputy mayors..
“Every deputy mayor, the PC, everyone who impacts or touches the lives of the young people will be part of the solution of dealing with gun violence because we can’t continue to believe that if you’ve made an arrest you’ve solved the problem,” he said. “The problem is why are children, why do they feel they need to have a gun in the first place? That is where the failure takes place.”