State Assemblyman Brian Maher told the Times Union this week that he had been misled about a situation purportedly involving homeless veterans, adding that he was “devastated and disheartened” as the story unfolded.
The initial report, from the New York Post, featured claims from Sharon Toney-Finch, CEO of the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation, who said that 20 homeless veterans were told they would need to end their stay early at hotels not far from New York City and find somewhere else to go.
After publication, the story earned widespread attention and bipartisan condemnation, with Republicans and Democrats in New York calling for investigations. Now, with allegations coming out that the whole story was false, Maher has asked the attorney general of Orange County, where the expulsions allegedly took place, and New York’s district attorney to investigate potential misconduct by the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation.
“This is something I believe hurt a lot of people,” Maher said, who explained that he had spoken with individuals he believed to have been veterans displaced by migrants and someone who was said to have transported the migrants from the hotels they were staying at.
Maher said he was left waiting for three hours at a bank to meet up with Toney-Finch to verify that the foundation had paid for shelter for the veterans. A receipt that was purported to be from the organization that had previously been given as proof appeared to have been altered, according to state lawmakers who spoke with the Times Union.
The claim was also disputed by several of the hotels that were implicated in the initial report, saying that Toney-Finch’s narrative was not true. Todd Solloway, an attorney for Crossroads Hotel, said in a Wednesday letter that there “are not now, and never were, any group of veterans at the hotel and certainly none were kicked out to make way for migrant asylum seekers.”
“My client and their staff are receiving serious threats — including death threats — from all over the county as a result of his false accusation,” he added. “And, this morning, the staff at the Hotel were forced to call 911 to seek protection against someone who was menacing the staff at the hotel, claiming he was looking for the veterans.”
According to Maher, he has worked with Toney-Fitch, an Iraq War veteran who received the Purple Heart, and her foundation several times over the last few years. He said that he asked for her to provide evidence several times in multiple phone calls as he began to believe he may have been lied to.
“Shortly after that, when I asked her why she would make something like that up, she said, ‘I had to help the veterans,’” he told the New York Post.
“Their gross misrepresentation of the facts surrounding our homeless veterans is appalling,” the lawmaker added in a statement.