The head of one of the largest operators of homeless shelters in New York City was fired on Monday as Bronx prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into allegations of a long pattern of sexual abuse and financial misconduct that had gone largely unchecked by his organization and the city.
The executive, Victor Rivera, had helped found the Bronx Parent Housing Network, and over two decades had overseen its growth into a major provider of housing and services while the city’s homeless population climbed to record numbers.
The investigation and dismissal of Mr. Rivera followed an investigation by The New York Times, which found that 10 women, including homeless women staying in his organization’s shelters, had accused him of sexual assault and harassment. Two of those women said Mr. Rivera had coerced them into performing oral sex. Mr. Rivera also used his nonprofit, the Bronx Parent Housing Network, to enrich himself and his family, The Times found.
Hours after the story was published, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a sweeping audit of the city’s $2 billion homeless shelter operation. The Bronx Parent Housing Network is one of about 70 groups that run shelters for the city.
In a statement released on Monday, the board of directors of the Bronx Parent Housing Network said it had fired Mr. Rivera, 60, and condemned what it called his “abhorrent and abusive conduct.” In response to The Times’s findings, the city had already directed the nonprofit to hire a lawyer to review Mr. Rivera’s actions, and the group said it supported the women who had come forward.
“B.P.H.N. recognizes how difficult this must be and is committed to serve as a resource for their healing, not an obstacle,” the board said in the statement.
Mr. Rivera has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, and in a previous statement said he had always treated women with respect. He called the allegations “unfair, baseless and without merit.”
A spokeswoman for the office of the Bronx district attorney, Darcel D. Clark, said prosecutors were investigating the allegations in The Times’s story but did not specify if they would examine the accusations of sexual abuse or financial improprieties, which included Mr. Rivera steering contracts to his associates and entangling his nonprofit with for-profit ventures he ran.
“We are investigating wherever the evidence leads,” the spokeswoman, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, said.
Tim Gilbert, a spokesman for the Bronx Parent Housing Network, declined to answer specific questions about why the board had not acted sooner when bdsm accusations mounted against Mr. Rivera.
“We are looking into these issues and cannot discuss the details at the moment,” Mr. Gilbert said.
Mr. Rivera’s treatment of women had been widely discussed within the Bronx Parent Housing Network in recent years, former employees told The Times.
The organization paid a combined $175,000 in confidential settlements in 2017 and 2019 to two former employees who accused Mr. Rivera of sexual harassment and assault, records showed. One of them had told the New York police that Mr. Rivera slapped her and forced her to perform oral sex in a shelter where she worked.
A homeless woman also complained to the New York Department of Social Services, which oversees shelter operators, about being sexually harassed by Mr. Rivera in 2017. But the city referred her complaint back to the Bronx Parent Housing Network, which decided it was unfounded. And a former employee sent a companywide email in 2018, alluding to Mr. Rivera’s abusive behavior and said he was quitting because as a father of a young girl, he would “be devastated to know that she would be preyed upon by a predator that has leverage over her.”
Mr. Rivera founded the Bronx Parent Housing Network in 2000 with other people from his church. Since just 2017, his organization has received $274 million in city funding to run almost 70 sites of homeless housing.
But as city funding came in, Mr. Rivera’s personal fortunes also grew. He enmeshed his for-profit housing companies with the finances of his nonprofit, steered lucrative contracts to friends and associates, and provided jobs to several members of his family, The Times found.
A whistle-blower told the city Department of Social Services about Mr. Rivera’s nepotism and conflicts of interest in 2017, and the city placed the group on a special watch list. But Mr. Rivera continued to find ways to benefit himself and his associates, The Times found.
The nonprofit’s board for years was filled with friends and associates of Mr. Rivera, The Times found. In a previous statement, a lawyer for the Bronx Parent Housing Network said all the board members with potential conflicts had resigned. In the organization’s early days, the lawyer said, Mr. Rivera had relied on his personal contacts to build his operation.
The Bronx Parent Housing Network board on Monday named Ululy Rafael Martinez, a lawyer, as its new president.