“Another white guy bites the dust” was an early reaction when discovering that Robert Henry, for eight years a staff accountant at RIOC, got fired. Did racism play a role? Maybe not directly, but his complaints about the mishandling of RIOC finances probably did. Here is what we learned.
by David Stone
The Roosevelt Island Daily News
Echoes in the potentially rising scandal of the mishandling of RIOC finances run deep. When President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes left – one former associate says “fled” – the DeKalb County Housing Authority in Georgia, he was only a step ahead of a report charging the nonprofit of mismanaging federal funds. (See attached below.)
A HUD investigation revealed nearly $1 million in mishandled money in a housing voucher program in which Haynes was in charge.
And now, it seems, a similar situation may have taken place within RIOC, leading up to two dismissals in retaliation.
Back in August
A reliable informant tells The Daily that, in August 2022, Haynes received notice that RIOC was half a million dollars behind in paying healthcare insurance premiums.
Instead of investigating himself, Haynes sent then-CFO John O’Reilly to find out what was going on. It was quickly discovered that Human Resources Assistant Vice President Tajuna Sharpe had not processed the payments correctly.
But something also troubling was going on.
Employees in the Finance Department said they’d tried working with Sharpe for a couple of years, attempting to reconcile certain differences. They were afraid, they said, that if they went over her head to O’Reilly or Haynes she would retaliate against them.
Robert Henry, an eight-year staff accountant, was among them.
That resonates as several individuals, including those in whistleblower reports and others in lawsuits, describe Sharpe as a bully with a lot of clout within RIOC. She’s seen as one of Haynes’s most loyal allies.
Given this information, O’Reilly asked a subordinate to look for any other missing or late payments.
“He found that Sharpe had also not made the 401k trust deposit for 6 PSD employees for months,” a reliable informant says. This was money RIOC already deducted from their paychecks.
When Mishandling of RIOC Finances Hit the Fan
Another informant alerted us to four separate lawsuits against Sharpe filed in Queens in the years prior to her hiring at RIOC. We confirmed that information and that RIOC executives were not aware of them at the time of her hiring.
O’Reilly explained the mishandled funds to Haynes, and then, sent a finance department professional to work with Sharpe on clearing up the mess.
“Sharpe hit the roof and said she would work with Finance professionally but would keep the fact that we ratted her out in the back of her mind.”
This was taken as “basically” a threat that she would take revenge.
O’Reilly was fired a week later. Sharpe, though, “…was never disciplined for causing the 401k issue or for risking employees of losing denial and health coverage.”
Six months later, Robert Henry paid a price too for questioning the mishandling of RIOC finances.
An Issue Festers, Then Catches Fire
We asked Robert Henry’s former boss, John O’Reilly, about him.
“An excellent accountant, very technically sound, with a history of RIOC that can’t be replaced,” O’Reilly said.
Another well-informed supervisor added, “Haynes may fire anyone whose loyalty is in question. With all these investigations, he’s probably suspicious of anyone who speaks his mind.”
But the story of Robert Henry’s dismissal may expose more than that.
A Sloppy Dictatorship
Here’s a digest of what we’re hearing from inside the troubled state agency.
“Henry knew his days were numbered because he often questioned ‘suspicious’ expenses and fees paid by RIOC to different vendor services.” He shared his concerns with others in Finance.
Then, this month, he spoke up candidly at a staff training session about working under Haynes and his administration. Everyone in training was asked the same question: Describe your life before and after being hired by RIOC.
He did, questioning the lack of leadership. One insider described Henry’s answer as a joke, but not anything offensive – to anyone other than Haynes and his cohort.
Bypassing the formalities of a write-up and corrective behavior action plan, we are told, Robert Henry was terminated the next day.
“Everyone is miserable. It appears to be a sloppy dictatorship.”
But This Leaves the Mishandling of RIOC Finances Unresolved
More than ever, keeping the current allegations joining many others in mind, an outside authority needs to look deeply into this ineffective, expensive state agency.
Are financial irregularities common? What controls are in place, if any, to insure the proper handling of public money? Haynes and his brain trust are bunkered. Someone with authority must break down the walls of secrecy.
While Haynes and his executive team may be completely innocent of any wrongdoing, the high level of complaints and the continuing dismissal of whistleblowers demands a closer look.
And not by Governor Hochul or the board. Both seem compromised and unable to look Shelton J. Haynes straight in the eye.