Dennis Bassat once credited the Rev. Peter Young for saving him from a life of crime.
Now, the 53-year-old Troy man who rose from being a resident at 820 River St. to one of Young’s executives stands accused of bilking more than $200,000 from the multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded halfway house over a four-year period ending in February 2011. State authorities believe he wrote bogus checks he represented as operating expenses for River Street, had them cashed and then pocketed the proceeds.
Bassat, who was arrested in Florida last week and extradited to New York, was arraigned on charges of grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument and falsifying business records after a five-count indictment was unsealed Thursday in Rensselaer County Court. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the larceny charge.
“Stealing from a nonprofit that provides services to people with drug and alcohol addiction, including those who are homeless, demonstrates a willingness to place one’s greed far above the needs of the community,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in statement released after Bassat’s arraignment. “This scheme is simply reprehensible,”
Bassat denied the charges and was remanded to the Rensselaer County jail without bail. Public Defender John Turi was assigned to represent him, but did not return calls for comment.
Bassat’s arrest last week came as agents from the FBI raided several offices of Peter Young Housing, Industry and Treatment, the umbrella organization led by the reverend that oversees River Street. Boxes of documents were seized from the Altamont Program in Schenectady, as well as from other locations in the Capital Region.
Bassat, who earned an annual salary of $77,000 as an executive, had signatory authority on a checking account at River Street. Bassat and an unnamed accomplice engaged in a scheme in which he wrote checks to fictitious individuals, according to the indictment.
As part of the scheme, Bassat signed time sheets indicating these people performed maintenance or repair work at River Street, prosecutors said. He also signed mileage log sheets indicating fictitious people had traveled for business purposes for the organization.
Bassat issued a $590 check to “Carlos Ruiz” in January 2011 and a $768 check to “Peter Howell” in May 2010, according to the indictment. He also created mileage sheets for both apparently fictitious men, the indictment states.
After drafting the fraudulent checks, Bassat or his accomplice signed the fictitious person’s name on the back of the check. Either Bassat or his accomplice then co-endorsed and cashed the fraudulent checks, the indictment alleges.
Bassat kept the proceeds or shared the cash with his accomplice, prosecutors allege. Sometimes, he deposited the fraudulent checks into his personal bank account, according to the indictment.
Bassat was once regarded as a sterling success of Young’s programs. A recovering alcoholic with a criminal past, he credited Young for saving him from a life of violence and drugs.
“Father Young saved my life,” Bassat said in a 2009 interview with The Record. “He saw something in me that I couldn’t see.”
Peter Young companies receive state funding through grants, legislative member items and contracts. River Street took in more than $8.3 million in revenue, according to the organization’s 2010 tax-exempt filing with the Internal Revenue Service; the organization landed more than $2.8 million in government contracts
An official with the state Attorney General’s Office said an investigation is ongoing and no one from Peter Young is being ruled out as a suspect. The nonprofit umbrella organization released a statement after Bassat’s arraignment Thursday, indicating the organization had discovered the wrongdoing internally and had fired “several employees” as a result.
Organization officials also indicated that Peter Young brought the fraud to the attention of the state and agreed to an audit, which is believed to be connected to the charges against Bassat. They also indicated the nonprofit has reorganized over the past two years and brought in “an experienced financial consultant” to improve a number of controls.
“Father Young’s organization has been victimized, but the mission and the hard work continue every day,” the company said in the statement.