A claim put forward by a non-profit leader that 20 homeless veterans were kicked out of Hudson Valley hotels last week to make room for migrants being bused there by New York City is false, according to news articles and a local pol with ties to the group.
Orange County Assembly Member Brian Maher released a statement Thursday evening saying he was “devastated and disheartened” by the alleged false account shared by the nonprofit leader, Sharon Toney-Finch. Her controversial account was first reported by the New York Post last Friday.
In that report, Toney-Finch, who leads the Yerik Israel Toney (YIT) Foundation, claimed two dozen homeless vets staying at three Orange County hotels — most of whom she said were at the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh — had been kicked out to make space for dozens of asylum seekers coming from the five boroughs.
The story quickly ballooned to national attention over the past week, and drew condemnations from local elected officials like Congress Member Pat Ryan (D-Orange/Ulster/Dutchess Counties), who blasted Mayor Eric Adams’ office in a Tweet following the news last Friday. But it came into question when a Wednesday report from a local outlet, Mid Hudson News, revealed that the Crossroads Hotel manager had no record of any veterans staying at the hotel.
Then a separate Thursday night report from the Times Union appeared to completely disprove Toney-Finch’s story, with Maher first denouncing it as false in an interview with the paper. Mid Hudson News also reported Friday that seven homeless men said they were recruited by Toney-Finch’s group from a Poughkeepsie homeless shelter to pose as the vets she claimed were kicked out of the Crossroads.
In his Thursday night statement, Maher — who was a spokesperson for YIT in a volunteer capacity — said he had a conversation with Toney-Finch Thursday afternoon, where she revealed the tale she spun last week was not the truth.
“I am devastated and disheartened upon a conversation with Sharon Toney-Finch at approximately 3:15 p.m. today, where I learned that the information regarding the YIT Foundation about homeless veterans being displaced is false,” Maher said. “Their gross misrepresentation of the facts surrounding our homeless veterans is appalling. The YIT Foundation purports to protect and support veterans, but the dishonest claims and fabrication of the facts by YIT does enormous harm to our homeless veterans by creating mistrust.”
Maher placed that call after waiting outside of a local bank for Toney-Finch to meet him and present financial statements proving she’d paid for a block of rooms at the Crossroads Hotel she claimed her organization had set the veterans up in for month-long stays. Maher wanted to meet Toney Finch in person following revelations that images of what was presented to him as her credit card and a receipt for the rooms may have been digitally altered, according to the Times Union’s report.
The Assembly Member told amNewYork Metro that when Toney-Finch didn’t show up to the bank, he knew something was wrong and he called her to confront her about it.
“I really pressed her at that point,” he said. “I really started seeing the writing on the wall for sure. And when she didn’t allow me access to view the financials without her being there, I said ‘why would you do this, why would you make all this up? This is something that’s hurt a lot of people.’ And she responded and said ‘maybe it’s not exactly the way I said it was.’”
Toney-Finch answered the phone when contacted by amNewYork Metro, but quickly hung up when a reporter asked her for comment.
Maher went on to say he’s severed ties with YIT and called for the state Attorney General’s office and the Orange County District Attorney to launch an investigation into the group’s conduct.
“I would like to officially call on your office to investigate potential fraud of the YIT Foundation. It has come to my attention today that their recent claims to assist homeless veterans were not valid,” Maher said in his statement, calling for the investigation.
“I also believe there may be other fraudulent actions taking place,” he added. “While I believed Sharon was telling the truth, I do want to apologize for those that have been negatively impacted since this news broke.”
A City Hall spokesperson disputed the account before it was revealed to be false in a Monday statement to amNewYork Metro. The spokesperson said that none of the individuals purported to have been kicked out of the Crossroads were identified as veterans when their reservations at the hotel were made. At the time, Maher pushed back on that statement, insisting the group had a years-long relationship with the hotel.
But Maher on Friday said the group’s claim that it has placed vets in rooms at the Crossroads for several years is also now in question.
Mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy in a Friday Tweet said the group’s alleged fabrication is “despicable.”
“This is despicable. This group lied about veterans to push their own xenophobic political agenda,” Levy wrote in the Tweet. “The Republican assemblymember in the region has now called for law enforcement to investigate.”
The mayor himself also called for an investigation Friday via his Twitter.
“New York City has cared for more than [67k] migrants and we’re asking other places in the state to do their part,” Adams said. “Instead of stepping up, we’re seeing hateful language and outright lies. I agree there should be an investigation into this fraudulent claim.”