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Fake grant writer who stole from Buffalo churches, non-profits, businesses pleads guilty

STAFF REPORTS


BUFFALO -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the guilty plea of Christina Sanford Gordon, who stole more than $200,000 from Buffalo churches, community organizations, and local businesses by misrepresenting herself as a grant writing expert and successful fundraiser. As Attorney General Schneiderman detailed when he announced criminal charges and a civil lawsuit last week, Gordon – through a sophisticated scheme – convinced over 30 organizations that she had applied for and obtained state-awarded grants. However, an investigation conducted by the Attorney General's office found that Gordon never actually applied for or obtained any grants. Instead, she allegedly spent the money the community groups paid her for supposed grant writing services on lavish personal expenses, including beauty treatments, cruises, jewelry, and apparel.

This morning, Gordon pleaded guilty before Erie County Court Judge Sheila DiTullio to Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree. Gordon was ordered to pay full restitution to those she defrauded, and signed confessions of judgment for all 35 complainants who have outstanding damages. She was immediately remanded to prison and will be sentenced on May 4, 2018 to 7 ½ to 15 years in prison.

Earlier this morning, Gordon appeared before New York State Supreme Court Justice Mark Grisanti on the civil case and agreed to sign an order permanently barring her from owning or operating any business in New York State.

"Last week, we announced criminal charges and a civil lawsuit against Christina Sanford Gordon for her despicable scheme to prey on Buffalo churches and community organizations, Today, swift justice was served – with Gordon pleading guilty and facing significant prison time for her scam," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Let this be a clear message to anyone who tries to defraud New Yorkers: we will find you, and we will prosecute you. I urge all New Yorkers who believe they may have been defrauded by Gordon or anyone else to contact my office."

To make the grant application process simpler and less expensive, New York created a free web portal called the Grants Gateway, where organizations can identify and apply for grants. As detailed in the Attorney General's lawsuit, Gordon represented herself as an expert fundraiser with years of experience using Grants Gateway. To carry out her scheme, Gordon created a fictitious person named "Sylvia Gregory," whom she claimed worked for Grants Gateway and with whom she purportedly had a close working relationship.

Beginning in the summer of 2017, Gordon misrepresented to her victims that she had identified, applied for, and successfully obtained grants for their entities though Grants Gateway. To bolster her misrepresentations and win the trust of her victims, Gordon wrote and sent emails from "Sylvia Gregory" to some of her victims to congratulate them on being awarded a grant and to commend her own work ethic; Gordon even created and presented to some of her victims a fictitious letter from Attorney General Schneiderman congratulating the victims on their grant award.

In one instance, Elim Christian Fellowship Church ("Elim") paid Gordon more than $16,000 for fundraising services. Gordon claimed that she had applied for, and secured grants totaling $900,000 for Elim through Grants Gateway, for projects such as paving the church parking lot, installing fencing, and purchasing new media equipment. As a result, Elim undertook several capital projects to improve its church and campus, which totaled more than $345,000. Elim later learned that Gordon had, in fact, never applied for any grants and the church had never been awarded any funds for the capital projects. Elim now owes contractors over $345,000 for projects that it never would have undertaken if not deceived by Gordon. Additionally, two of the contractors have put liens on Elim's church property.

Similarly, Reverend Elzie Fisher of Good Shepherd Temple Church ("Good Shepherd") paid Gordon $4,575 from his personal funds to apply for and obtain grants to make capital improvements to his church, including fixing the roof and removing asbestos. Because Gordon falsely notified the church that it had received a $500,000 grant, Good Shepherd allowed a roofing company to begin replacing the church roof. The company tore off half of the roof and replaced it with plywood sheathing. The roofing company then ceased construction because it had not received any payment. Currently, half of the church roof has no shingling on it and is susceptible to weather-related damage. The church does not have the funds to complete the project, which it estimates will take at a minimum of $43,000 to complete.

Additionally, Gordon told True Bethel Baptist Church's True Community Development Corporation that she could obtain grants through Grants Gateway. True Community Development Corporation paid a total of $5,900 to Gordon. Gordon then provided the Executive Director with two fraudulent letters purportedly from Attorney General Schneiderman, congratulating them on receiving two state grants for capital development projects: one in August 2017 for $3.2 million, and one in September 2017 for $2.5 million. 

The Attorney General's investigation further revealed that Gordon's scheme followed a similar pattern at several other organizations, including Greater Works Christian Fellowship Church, Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, 716ers Elite AAU Basketball, Buffalo Black Achievers, and the Nidus Development. Gordon allegedly spent tens of thousands of dollars that she bilked from victims on a lavish lifestyle that included high-end clothing, jewelry, furs, cruises, and more.

Gordon's criminal history dates back to 1989 and spans nearly her entire adult life; in fact, Gordon began ripping off churches and nonprofits in Buffalo just two months after being released from federal prison in January 2017 on prior, unrelated charges.

New Yorkers who believe Gordon has defrauded them are encouraged to file a complaint online or call the Attorney General's Buffalo Regional office at (716) 853-8404.

Attorney General Schneiderman urges charitable organizations seeking to hire a fundraiser to double check their references and remember the old adage: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Be wary of any offers or deals that sound too good to be true, as they likely are too good to be true.
The Attorney General would like to thank the New York State Office of Information Technology Services for referring this investigation to the OAG.