Occupiers Steal $300,000 from Hurricane Sandy Victims

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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After the hurricane, I was telling people not to donate to Occupy Sandy, despite all the glowing press they were getting. Aside from the ideological issues, Occupiers are the least trustworthy people in the world.

And in shocking news, that proved to be the case.

As relief turns to long-term recovery, community activists have their eyes on a group they know has some money left unspent: Occupy Sandy.

After Superstorm Sandy hit New York last October, Occupy Wall Street—the global protest movement against economic inequality that started in downtown Manhattan—set up a new group, Occupy Sandy, and mobilized thousands of supporters to raise more than $1.37 million, according to finances made public on their website.

But here’s the thing: Roughly one out of every five dollars raised—nearly $300,000—remains unallocated. According to interviews with Occupy Sandy organizers, it’s been more than three months since the group began the process of giving this remaining money over to community groups in the hardest-hit areas. Only a fraction of the $150,000 that has already been allocated to the Rockaways has so far been disbursed.

Mind you, it’s already June. The hurricane hit in October 2012. A fifth of the cash is up in the air.

So far, there’s no clear picture of how nearly $240,000 of funds already allocated have been, or will be, spent. Bre Lembitz, an original Zuccotti park occupier, now Occupy Sandy’s bookkeeper, attributes the delay mostly to paperwork snags beyond the group’s control: “The documentation has fallen by the wayside,” she says. “It hasn’t been a priority for people.”

How much paperwork do you have when you claim to be an ad hoc organization?

Some Rockaway residents say that Occupy Sandy is keeping them in the dark about how they will dish out its remaining money, and that the group, which has no one central location in the city but operates from several hubs, isn’t including them in decision-making.

A secretive and controlling left wing group? I’m shocked.

Occupy Sandy has now convened a panel of nine people to serve the specific needs of the Rockaways, including 4 residents affiliated with Occupy Sandy, and to decide how their chunk of money gets spent. There is no timeline for this, but organizers say some grants might begin to flow in another month’s time. As for the nearly $300,000, Lembitz says Occupy Sandy is “in the process” of having open meetings “where the community can come together and decide how best to allocate the rest of the money.” But apart from one debrief session, the group’s public calendar is bare through the end of the year.

There’s a meeting. Totally. It’s just taking place in a basement somewhere in Canada… and you’re not invited.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” says Robyn Hillman-Harrigan, who runs Shore Soup Project, a group that provided more than 50,000 hot meals door-to-door in the aftermath of the storm. She goes out of her way to say she’s supportive of the bigger Occupy Sandy principles, and thinks its efforts have been largely commendable. But she can’t help but see the irony of a small group making decisions about money meant for the many. “It feels like a club,” she says.

Or a Soviet.

Terri Bennett defended the makeup of the new Rockaway panel. “There’s a really fine line between inviting enough people to participate, and inviting too many,” she says. She also says the group wants to avoid being overwhelmed by requests and repeating the mistakes of the past: “I also think that those [community] groups are kind of the same people over and over again that are already involved in these processes, but if we invite people who aren’t normally invited to the table, then it builds a bunch of peoples’ capacities.”

And apparently half those people have to belong to Occupy Sandy.

If Occupy Sandy doesn’t tell the Rockaways community how it plans to spend the rest of the money, “I personally believe they have outstayed their welcome,” Taylor  says.

  • Naresh Krishnamoorti

    Google an image of Bre Lembitz, the bookkeeper. This is not someone I would trust to take my coat at a coat check, much less to handle accounts for large donations.

    • ziggy zoggy

      She looks like she could make a homemade bong or draw a tattoo with pen ink and a sewing needle but check my coat? Not even if I were donating it to Goodwill Industries.

  • DOYOULOVEAMERICA

    Liberals are suckers for this type of scam, that is why anything that liberals touch turns to sh…. .

  • drew hornbein

    As someone who was deeply involved with Occupy Sandy I can tell you that this isn’t an issue of stealing but of incompetence.

    Occupy Sandy didn’t exist until a few days after the storm. There was no structure in place for accepting money or giving it out. We saw a need and ran to help our neighbors. No matter what their political leanings were. We are doing the best we can. As far as I know there is very little fraud going on.

    It’s really sick that you hate on us so violently. Are we not all Americans? Aren’t “Occupiers” god’s children just like you? Why do you hate you’re brothers and sisters so much? If you actually talked to one of us you might find that we agree on a great many things. You can hit me up at hello@dhornbein.com if you want to have an adult conversation about occupy.

    We want to help, we want to do good. Perhaps we aren’t perfect, but it’s so messed up to see people bash a group trying to do good while not leveling the same criticism at the state or red cross.

    Billions go to the state and red cross, how well do they spend that money? $300k is chump change. It’s not that Occupy Sandy shouldn’t be criticized, it should, but if you aren’t constructive, we can’t do better next time…

    • ziggy zoggy

      I hit you up at your website and I can say with 100% unequivocal conviction that you are a racist piece of $hit.

      P.S., I would love to sock you up in real life.

      • drew hornbein

        Racist? That’s a stretch…

  • Walter Cronkind

    I guess citizen organized relief efforts don’t work. I’m so happy FEMA is there to ensure everything is okay. We like FEMA right..? But don’t liberals like FEMA? Now I’m confused… If conservatives don’t like self organized relief efforts, what do they like? Or is it just about hate?