A man committed to blood, sweat and tears to uplift the impoverished in Rochester? Or a man who found programs specifically geared for the poor as convenient piggy banks easy for his personal pickings?
On Tuesday, former Rochester Housing Authority Chairman George Moses was portrayed as both - community sinner and saint - as a federal judge sentenced him to 6½ years for fraud, money laundering, and lies on federal taxes.
Moses' lawyers had hoped that his past works, and nearly 40 letters of support from men and women including community leaders, would convince U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford to significantly deter from the federal guideline recommendation of a sentence of 70 to 87 months. The attorneys asked for a sentence of two years, while federal prosecutors wanted the upper end of the guidelines with a sentence of 87 months.
Wolford acknowledged Moses' good deeds, bolstering education and housing in some of the neediest Rochester neighborhoods, but said that he too frequently saw the nonprofits for which he worked as revenue sources to pillage.
"You are just not an honest person, Mr. Moses," she said. Moses, now 54, was convicted a year ago of 28 criminal counts, and has been jailed since. He was found guilty of what ultimately totaled nearly $360,000 with frauds against nonprofits and tax crimes. Defense lawyers contested the amount of alleged losses.
To thieve from organizations designed to help the community's most-in-need "is not only criminal," Wolford said before imposing the sentence. "It's morally repugnant."
In sentencing Moses, Wolford harkened back to the very first prosecution witness in the 2021 seven-week trial - a man battling drug addiction who mowed yards for North East Area Development organization, or NEAD, which Moses headed. Moses used the man's social security number to falsely claim he provided babysitting for the Moses family and used him as a $600-a-year child care tax credit.
"His testimony demonstrates how petty in some ways yet how harmful your conduct really was," Wolford said.
Defense attorney Frederick Hafetz said the recommended guideline sentence was irrationally harsh. Typically, defense research showed, men and women convicted of fraud in similar amounts were sentenced to about 27½ months, Hafetz said.
Ratcheting up Moses' sentence were his leadership positions in various nonprofits, and what Wolford said was his apparent unwillingness to accept that his behavior was criminal. Local Pastor Johnny Harris, who has known Moses for years, said after court that he has met with Moses in jail regularly and "he definitely has a remorse for everything that has happened."
Testimony at the trial showed that Moses charged NEAD, which is now practically defunct, with multiple personal expenses, including a time share in Florida, a family cruise, separate spa expenses from the cruise, purchases for his wife's multi-level marketing business, tickets to a Knicks' game at Madison Square Gardens, and immigration assistance for Moses' then Canadian girlfriend.
Moses also helped former City Councilman Adam McFadden, who is now imprisoned, pilfer money from an after-school program for children. As well, Moses was found guilty of defrauding the state Dormitory Authority through a $45,000 grant and committed fraud against Rochester Housing Charities, or RHC, a subsidiary of the Housing Authority.
At sentencing Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Resnick noted that Moses had provided almost 20 jobs at nonprofits to family and friends. "These are jobs that could have been used to help the disadvantaged people of that community," he said.
The fraud against RHC was discovered after only seven months during which Moses played an active role there. Had it not been uncovered, Resnick said, Moses "would have continued stealing money to benefit his family and himself."
In that crime, Moses and Janis White, a former executive secretary at RHA, bilked taxpayers through fraudulent and inflated heating and air conditioning contracts. White, using a relative, established a company called HJJ Properties that purportedly was a heating and air conditioning business.
No such business existed and legitimate businesses actually did the work.
In 2018, for example, RHC was defrauded into paying HJJ about $87,000 - about $28,000 of which was then routed to a company that had done the work. The overall loss to RHC of that conspiracy between White and Moses was close to $59,000.
Moses, who was appointed to the Housing Authority board by former Mayor Lovely Warren, was also convicted of lying to FBI agents in interviews.
George Moses - community leader
Among those who wrote letters on Moses' behalf were men and women who saw the work up close that he did over the years, such as the creation of Freedom School, designed to improve education in one of Rochester's poorest communities. University of Rochester officials were so impressed with Moses' accomplishments that they worked hand-in-hand with him on some educational initiatives.
"Mr. Moses has given virtually his entire life trying to serve the community of Rochester," attorney Hafetz said of Moses, who was the son of a single teenage mother and one of nine children.
Among those who wrote of Moses' seemingly tireless efforts on educational and other fronts were City Court Judge Van Henri White and Victor Saunders, who heads a city anti-violence initiative. In court, Wolford said she respected Saunders' opinion, but questioned his choice to write the letter on City of Rochester letterhead, especially given the fact that Moses' convictions included fraud against taxpayers.
Asked about the letter, city spokeswoman Barbara Pierce said in a statement Tuesday, "While we respect Victor's right to speak to his experience with Mr. Moses, it should not have been on City letterhead. This was addressed directly with Victor and it has been made clear to our team that any similar letters in the future should not be written on City letterhead."
Freedom School, Hafetz said Tuesday, was Moses' noble effort to provide education better than that in the city's struggling school system. And, it has had successes, Hafetz said, as the letters of support indicated. Some who worked with Moses told of his efforts to boost literacy and graduation rates through the school.
"This was not acts of greed, not self-aggrandizement," Hafetz said. "... This was George Moses."
Meanwhile, Moses provided safe havens for children at the school and through other programs that he created himself, Hafetz and some of Moses' supporters said. A program for the homeless owes its creation to assistance from Moses, one letter to Wolford said.
Moses was not denying the crimes, Hafetz said, but instead the question was, given Moses' many contributions to the community, "how long should he be going to jail."
Given a chance to speak, Moses said he would defer to the comments of his attorneys.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: George Moses sentenced for crimes against poor in Rochester NY