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NYC Kills Pending Contract With Group Running Troubled Migrant Shelter Exposed by THE CITY

Two residents have come forward with new accusations of harassment and threats, while four employees say bosses shorted their pay at the converted hotel the nonprofit is still running.

SHARE NYC Kills Pending Contract With Group Running Troubled Migrant Shelter Exposed by THE CITY

Asylum-seeker Rossmary Torres has joined others in accusing shelter managers of harassment, July 7, 2023.

Marcus Santos/THE CITY

New York City’s Social Services Department has killed a planned $13.9-million contract to run a Bronx migrant shelter that was slated to go to the nonprofit operator of a Sunset Park shelter where THE CITY revealed widespread mismanagement and allegations of sexual harassment. 

Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed in an email to THE CITY that the city had withdrawn the pending contract with the 163rd Street Improvement Council.

The city is looking for another nonprofit to take over operations at the Friendly Motor Inn on East Gun Hill Road in The Bronx, which currently houses asylum-seekers, Sharma confirmed. She declined to elaborate on the city’s decision.

The development is one of several that have shaken the agency in the wake of an investigation published by THE CITY detailing how Mark Desmond Leary, the director of the GLō hotel, had turned the 76-unit shelter on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park into a fear-laden fiefdom where he regularly threatened to kick out residents or fire employees in heated outbursts, according to interviews with them.

Leary has been suspended pending the results of an internal review, according to Juda Engelmayer, a crisis PR specialist hired by the nonprofit. And a spokesman for another city-funded social services agency where Leary worked while also managing the GLō shelter said he no longer is employed there.

The nonprofit’s internal probe, THE CITY has learned, is also now digging into whether shelter employees were substantially short-changed on their pay. Meanwhile, two more women told THE CITY they were sexually harassed by a shelter employee who is Leary’s cousin, bringing the number of residents who described unsettling encounters with him up to four. One woman said the cousin took photos of her baby in diapers in the hallway in front of her room and vowed to report her to Leary and the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.

Engelmayer called THE CITY’s reporting “gossip and innuendo” and blamed the report for the loss of the Gun Hill Road facility. “We believe that the [Gun Hill Road] facility matter is a direct result of public allegations without … due process and in advance of any investigations and internal actions,” Engelmayer said. 

The Friendly Motor Inn, the site of a shelter for migrants, July 14, 2023.

Marcus Santos/THE CITY

Cassandra Perry, 163rd Street Improvement Council’s executive director, added that the group is dedicated to serving homeless New Yorkers with compassion and excellence. “That is what we are continuing to do and strive to do better in all of our work across all of our facilities,” Perry said in a statement.

Repeated attempts to reach Leary for comment went unanswered.  

The city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) has pledged to investigate the situation, though Sharma declined to provide specifics. If warranted, Sharma said, the city could compel the nonprofit to develop a corrective action plan. In the meantime, the 163rd Street Improvement Council continues to operate four “sanctuary facilities” for migrants including the one at the GLō hotel, for a total of about $26 million in city funding. 

Living in Fear

Perry, the nonprofit’s executive director, picked Leary to helm the GLō sanctuary facility last fall. At the time, he was working as a program director at CAMBA, a major social services provider based in Brooklyn. 

Leary recruited close friends and family members to work at the 76-unit shelter for migrant women and their families on Fourth Avenue, and defended the cousin he hired for months after multiple women’s allegations that he harassed them with offers of cash in exchange for sex. When the women tried to rebuff his advances, the man stormed into their rooms late at night, several told THE CITY.

The harassment allegations were echoed by the two women newly interviewed by THE CITY and by numerous other residents and employees at the shelter who said they had heard about the alleged sexual harassment secondhand. 

The newly built GLō hotel on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park is being used to house migrant women and children.

Marcus Santos/THE CITY

Rossmary Torres, 29, said the man insinuated they were dating and asked her out for a drink. Torres said she didn’t think much of it at the time.

But when she rebuffed the man’s advances, Torres said she “saw the change.”

“That’s when I experienced the harassment towards me and my children,” she said in Spanish. 

The employee entered her room, which did not have a lock, several times late at night, and threatened to report her to shelter managers for minor transgressions. She said it reached a particularly alarming point when he took photos of her baby in the hallway and warned that he would report her to Leary and the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which can act to remove children from family situations deemed to be dangerous.

As THE CITY previously reported, the women gained the courage to talk to shelter leaders about what was happening around March of this year, but were frequently told by officials not to “gossip.” Their alleged assailant remained employed at the facility for weeks after Leary had promised to address the situation. 

Several workers and residents said the cousin has not been spotted at the hotel since late spring. Engelmayer confirmed the employee was fired in early May, several months after the women at the hotel confronted shelter staff about the abuse. 

Engelmayer had previously stated that Perry first learned about the allegations in mid-June — at least three months after the women complained, and a month and a half after the firing — and then informed city officials and hired a workplace investigator who has been interviewing current and former employees over the last several weeks.

‘My Hair Started Falling Out’

Many employees also reported being intimidated in other ways by shelter supervisors and by Leary, who they said was prone to bursts of rage at them. Since THE CITY’s investigation, four employees came forward with pay stubs and emails to support their allegations that some of their paychecks did not reflect the hours they worked. 

Sometimes, they said, they were stiffed hundreds of dollars on a single payday, and despite their emails to management raising their concerns, the issues were rebuffed outright, or remained unresolved after weeks of back-and-forth.

Workers first brought those concerns to management of the 163rd Street Improvement Council as early as last December, email chains reviewed by THE CITY show. 

“Anytime you would say something about your check being short there was just an attitude and it never got rectified,” said one employee. “I got stressed out, my hair started falling out.” 

One employee went back and forth with shelter management about unpaid hours in an email thread beginning in May. In late June, after THE CITY published its investigation, she received a reply from executive director Perry.

“We are presently investigating a number of alleged irregularities at the GLō. We are committed to a thorough salary review as soon as possible,” Perry wrote in her reply to the employee. “At this point, given the demands of the investigations, I cannot give you a timeframe and ask that you please bear with us.”

In response to THE CITY’s questions about employee payroll, Engelmeyer said that the nonprofit had “no issues with employee pay” but confirmed that it had ordered a “full payroll audit.”

“Many GLō employees began quickly without having been properly entered into the payroll system. This only happened at the GLō as we dealt with a fast moving immigration population issue,” he said.

As that audit continued, DSS officials arrived at the hotel to review operations and asked for copies of employee time cards for a period of several months, according to GLō employees. Sharma, the DSS spokesperson, declined to comment on the visit.   


THE CITY’s initial report also revealed that Leary was working for another city-funded nonprofit, Brooklyn based CAMBA, at the time he was managing the GLō facility. Engelmayer confirmed that the 163rd Street Improvement Council learned Leary was also working at CAMBA from THE CITY’s report. 

Sharma said that Leary’s arrangement with the two groups would be looked into as part of DSS’s review.  

At CAMBA, Leary ran a program that connected homeless adults with empty beds in a network of churches throughout the city. 

According to people who worked with him at CAMBA as well as at GLō, Leary juggled both full-time jobs. He started his day by signing in at the East New York CAMBA office at about 9 a.m. and then headed to the GLō shelter. He often kept the blinds closed at his CAMBA office, so it wasn’t easy to spot if he was in his office or not. The program that Leary ran required him to be in the field, spending time building the network of churches to host homeless adults, so it wasn’t unusual for him to be out anyway.  

But after a couple of hours at the CAMBA office he would drive over to the GLō Hotel in Sunset Park to begin his work day there, according to employees who worked with him at CAMBA. GLō employees told THE CITY that he usually was seen at the shelter for a few hours from about 11 a.m. to sometime mid-afternoon. Multiple employees who worked the evening shift at the shelter, from 4 p.m. to midnight, said in interviews that they rarely saw him. 

When Leary started running the GLō facility last October, his supervisor at CAMBA repeatedly asked for his resignation, according to multiple employees who worked with him at the organization. 

CAMBA spokesperson Alison Zaccone told The CITY that as of June 27, the day of THE CITY’s report on the GLō hotel, Leary was no longer employed by CAMBA, though she confirmed he had been employed there a day earlier. She declined repeated requests for further information. 

At the GLō hotel, Leary hired friends and family members to supervisor positions, employees said. The shelter remains under the direction of two of those friends, according to multiple employees. 

Current employees told THE CITY that they are concerned about their job security as the shelter falls under increasing public scrutiny. 

“That hotel is a box of surprises,” said a 30-year-old Venezuelan asylum-seeker who had previously described her encounters with Leary’s cousin. “From the outside it seems like everything’s OK but in reality – nobody knows what happens inside. I say that from personal experience,” she added, in Spanish. “I survived eight months living there and it wasn’t easy.”

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