‘Justice for Whom?’: OPRA lawsuit filed for Dixon-linked nonprofit records
Real Jersey City has filed a complaint in Hudson County Superior Court seeking records related to grant funding for The Waterfront Project, a nonprofit linked to Dixon Advisory.
Documents related to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) awarded by the City of Jersey City to The Waterfront Project have been concealed by the Fulop Administration – forcing Real Jersey City to file an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) complaint in Hudson County Superior Court.
Despite a diplomatic effort through the city clerk, the Fulop Administration hasn’t been acting in good faith, which is alarming because the entity at the heart of the OPRA request is a nonprofit clearly aligned with Fulop’s Super PAC megadonors — CarePoint Health & Dixon Advisory USA — and a politically active religious non-profit.
About The Waterfront Project
According to a sponsored post paid for by Dixon Leasing on the website Jersey City Digs, The Waterfront Project (WFP) is “dedicated to assisting Hudson County’s economically disadvantaged people — the working poor, seniors, veterans, and those living with disabilities — by providing information, advice, and pro bono legal representation to address their civil legal issues and concerns.”
Dinah Hendon was the executive director of the WFP from October 2016 until July 2018. After that, Hendon was hired by Mayor Steven Fulop as director of the Office of Housing Code Enforcement and was replaced at WFP by Rebecca Symes – who worked as general counsel for Dixon Advisory and was an unsuccessful 2017 Jersey City Council candidate in Ward E (Downtown).
At the annual Justice for All fundraiser in 2018, as she was leaving WFP for the Fulop Admin., Hendon paid tribute to Dixon Projects & Dixon Leasing, the President of CarePoint Foundation, and Jersey City Together.
Of note, entities associated with Dixon Projects & Dixon Leasing (subsidiaries to Dixon Advisory USA) and CarePoint Foundation (nonprofit arm of CarePoint Health) gave $1.3 million in donations to the Fulop-linked Super PAC Coalition for Progress, while Jersey City Together has successfully advocated for $170 million in municipal bonding related to development of Bayfront.
Suspicious records response from Jersey City
On March 19, 2019, an OPRA request was submitted asking for “all documentation submitted by The Waterfront Project from 1-1-13 to 3-15-19 related to Community Development Block Grants” and “all documentation related to the awarding of Community Development Block Grants to The Waterfront Project from 1-1-13 to 3-15-19.”
On April 15, 2019, the Fulop Administration provided copies of “City of Jersey City’s Consolidated Plan PY 2018 Annual Action Plan Year Four” and “City of Jersey City FY 2015 – 2019 Five Year Consolidated Plan and 2015 Annual Action Plan” – both of which were clearly not responsive to the OPRA request upon review.
On April 23, 2019, an email was sent to the city noting that the “2015-2019 Consolidated Plan makes no mention of The Waterfront Project,” and that the “2018 Annual Action Plan does make reference to The Waterfront Project – which received $40,000 for housing counseling.”
Additionally, it was noted that the WFP was clearly awarded some funding, yet there was no corresponding documentation provided by the Division of Community Development.
On April 26, 2019, the city produced three subgrantee agreements showing that WFP has received at least $95,000 in grants over three years. The subgrantee agreements also reference project progress reports and quarterly activity reports, yet none of those documents have been provided – despite diplomatic efforts through the city clerk.
The records dispute is now headed to Hudson County Superior Court after Real Jersey City, represented by the Law Offices of Walter M. Luers, LLC, filed a complaint.
Justice for Whom?
To be clear, the records sought are part of a long-running inquiry into the relationship between Mayor Steven Fulop and Dixon Advisory – which started around the time they were declared Biggest winner of the Fulop Administration’s Tax Policies (2013-2018) on August 5, 2018.
Simply put, the progress reports and quarterly activity reports are necessary to analyze the value of WFP programs. So the public can know who exactly is getting justice from a nonprofit receiving taxpayer funds and has their events sponsored by CarePoint and Dixon – two corporate entities known for charging outrageous fees and donating to Fulop’s Super PAC.
Specifically, CarePoint’s three principal owners made $157 million in “management fees” from three Hudson County hospitals through shell companies between 2013 and 2016, according to a report from the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (read more here). Dixon reaped $230 million in fees the past five years from the Real Estate Investment Trust it manages that owns approximately $475 million worth of property in New Jersey (primarily Jersey City/Hudson County, read more here).
Finally, I can only hope that Hendon, as the top housing code enforcer in Jersey City, is providing justice for all Jersey City tenants – including those living in Dixon’s large portfolio of Greenville properties.