A Lower East Side political activist with a history of criticizing abusers of subsidized housing has been accused of stealing more than $260,000 from a small low-income co-op at 172 Forsyth St. for which he served as the property manager, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Roberto Caballero, 53, was arraigned in Supreme Court this afternoon. He faces one charge of second-degree grand larceny, 18 counts of second-degree forgery, 18 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument (second degree) and 8 counts of first-degree falsifying business records, according to a District Attorney spokeswoman.
According to authorities, Caballero is accused of forging more than 150 checks from the building’s bank account in the treasurer’s name between January 2007 and July 2010. He is also accused of quadrupling his $450/month salary, by arranging to have $450 deposited weekly rather than monthly, into his own account, according to the Supreme Court indictment. As property manager, he was responsible for collecting rent from tenants and making deposits into the building’s bank accounts to pay the bills and maintenance costs for the six-story, 17-unit building which faces Sara D. Roosevelt Park, between Rivington and Stanton streets.
Caballero is no stranger to headlines. In 2010, the New York Post and Gothamist featured his public accusations about a “lesbian-friendly” building in the East Village discriminating against men, noting the affordable units were favored by well-to-do gay women, including Margarita Lopez, a housing authority board member and former city councilwoman, and current Councilwoman Rosie Mendez. A week later, the Post quoted him extensively as a “manager of many Lower East Side low-income co-ops,” in a piece about abuses of the city’s affordable housing programs.
A year earlier, the Villager reported on a residency discrepancy in Caballero’s candidacy related to his Columbia Street address while he was running for Democratic district leader. The conflict eventually knocked him off the ballot. He also appears in the editorial pages of several downtown newspapers in 2009 identified as a former Democratic District Leader and as the president of the Lower East Side Political Action Committee.
Caballero’s case was one of two co-op embezzlement cases the Manhattan District Attorney’s office brought to court today. Gordon Jenkins, an employee of an East Harlem co-op at 136 W. 133rd St., was also arraigned today, on charges of stealing more than $50,000 from that building, for which he served as treasurer.
“Government programs are not piggy banks,” said District Attorney Cyrus Vance in a prepared statement after the court hearing this afternoon. “Though acting independently of one another, the defendants in these two cases are charged with stealing from members of a program that was intended to help low-income New Yorkers achieve the dream of home ownership.”
Caballero’s bond was set at $100,000; his next court date is Feb. 17.
City land records show the Forsyth Street co-op was created by a 1995 resolution of the City Council, which converted the city-owned building to private ownership at a price of $250 per apartment. The deal also stipulated certain tax abatements and provisions for apartment buyers, including that they would have annual incomes not exceeding six times the annual maintenance and carrying costs of their dwellings. A more recent 2007 agreement between the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the co-op organization, known as the 172 Forsyth Street Housing Development Corporation, stipulates that buyers must be limited to less than 120 percent of the neighborhood’s median income.