By Howard Koplowitz and Ivan Pereira
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said two figures who were part of the group selected to operate and install 4,500 video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Race Track — Darryl Greene and the Rev. Floyd Flake — were being unfairly scrutinized in the media for their involvement with the consortium.
He also said parameters of the controversial deal were changed that forced Greene to leave the group.
In a telephone interview Tuesday with TimesLedger Newspapers, Meeks said he believed Greene, who was convicted of misusing $500,000 in city funds in 1998, and Aqueduct Entertainment Group investor Flake bring development experience that is needed for the Aqueduct project.
“I just find it ironic that the two local people are the ones being utilized to say that the [Aqueduct] deal should not be done,” he said. “No one is looking at the qualifications of those individuals and what role they were to play in the deal. When you talk about job creation … in southeast Queens, who better to do job creation, community development than Rev. Floyd Flake? He’s done it for over 30 years.”
As for Greene, Meeks said “a lot was being made about him, yet from 1999 on he has been a principal player in helping minority businesses participate in major projects.”
The Jan. 30 announcementby Gov. David Paterson that AEG had won the bidding unleashed a strong backlash from critics who contended that Flake’s role in the group suggested political maneuvering behind the scenes and that Greene did not belong in the group.
Meeks said the rules of the Aqueduct deal “changed after the contract was given as opposed to beforehand.”
He was referring to the stipulation that anyone convicted of a felony within 10 years could not be part of the project. That was then changed to any convictions within 15 years, which would disqualify Greene, who ultimately left AEG several weeks ago, the congressman said.
“I have concerns when rules change after the game is over,” Meeks said.
Much was made about Flake, the politically powerful minister of the Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, meeting with Paterson three days after AEG was selected, but Meeks said the reverend and Paterson did not discuss the Aqueduct project.
Meeks, who along with state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) founded the New Direction Local Development Corp. — a nonprofit that is now being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan — said he was not involved in the group’s day-to-day operations and could not account for the charity’s questionable accounting practices.
“In regards to New Direction, as a whole, I don’t know much about that, as far as whatever investigation is taking place,” Meeks said. “All I can say is that I believe that there were a number of trusted community people that were doing good things in the community and wanted to do good things in the community. They came together and said, ‘Hey, this is what we want to do.’”
New Directionhad raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from elected officials and local groups to give to charity, including Hurricane Katrina relief, but tax records show New Direction distributed little of those funds to relief organizations.
“I have no idea about any tax filings or anything of that nature,” Meeks said, noting that two accounts were created: one for New Direction and another for NOAH-F, a subsidiary of New Direction that was collecting donations for Katrina victims.
When asked who would know about what happened to the money collected, Meeks said board members at New Direction and NOAH-F would know.
The U.S. attorney’s office was also reportedly investigating ties between New Direction and AEG
“To me, from my viewpoint in that regards, it is two separate and distinct things,” Meeks said. “I don’t see how anyone can draw a link there, in my estimation.”
One connection between the two group’s is Greene, whose wife helped found New Direction.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.