One of New York City's most visible homeless charities is a sham, according to the state's attorney general.
Since the late 1980s, tourist-packed areas in midtown Manhattan have been peppered with large plastic jugs set up on card tables to collect money for a group called the United Homeless Organization.
People working the tables routinely say the money goes to services like food pantries, shelters and drug treatment centers.
In reality, almost all donations wind up being pocketed by the group's staff and founders, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a civil suit filed Monday.
"UHO exploits the good intentions of people who thought that their charitable donations were helping to fund services for the homeless," Cuomo said in a written statement. "Instead, their donations go directly to UHO's principals and workers, who abused the organization's tax-exempt status to line their own pockets."
A lawyer for UHO did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.
According to the lawsuit, the group's founders, Stephen Riley and Myra Walker of the Bronx, charged table workers a daily fee for the right to use the UHO name, logo, aprons and badges. Any money they collected above that fee, they were free to keep.
As for the fees collected by UHO, which amounted to tens of thousands of dollars annually, the lawsuit said Riley and Walker routinely tapped those funds to pay personal living expenses.
On any given day, the group has up to 50 tables in the city.
The suit, filed in a state court in Manhattan, seeks a court order barring Riley and Walker from soliciting charitable contributions from the public.
The state has also asked the court to freeze the group's assets, force the pair to return any misappropriated funds and give up several vehicles purchased with UHO money.