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A.G. Underwood announces sentencing of fake grant writer who stole over $200,000 from Buffalo Nonprofits

PRESS RELEASE

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced the sentencing 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 detailed in criminal charges and a civil suit brought by the Attorney General's office in March 2018, 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 spent the money the community groups paid her for supposed grant writing services on luxurious personal expenses, including beauty treatments, cruises, jewelry, and apparel. Today, Gordon was sentenced to 7 ½ to 15 years in prison by Erie County Court Judge Sheila DiTullio.

"The defendant crafted an elaborate scheme to defraud Buffalo churches and organizations in order to fund her lavish lifestyle," said Attorney General Underwood. "Today's sentencing should serve as a reminder of the consequences for stealing from New Yorkers."

On March 22nd 2018, Gordon pleaded guilty before Judge 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. In a Consent Order filed March 29th, 2018, she also agreed to sign an order permanently barring her from owning or operating any business in New York State. Today, Gordon was sentenced to 7 ½ to 15 years on the charge of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree charge, as well as 2 to 4 years on the Scheme to Defraud and Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument, which will run concurrent with the 7 ½ to 15 year sentence.

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 the New York Attorney General 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. At the time criminal charges were brought against Gordon, half of the church roof had no shingling on it and was susceptible to weather-related damage. The church did not have the funds to complete the project, which it estimated would take at a minimum of $43,000 to complete. Fortunately, following the Attorney General's announcement in March, Buffalo community members and anonymous donors stepped forward and helped Good Shepherd secure funding to repair the roof.

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 the Attorney General, 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 Underwood 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.

The criminal case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Susan H. Sadinsky of the Attorney General's Public Integrity Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Daniel Cort and Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz. The investigation was handled by Supervising Investigator Richard Doyle, Investigator Scott Barnes, Investigator Sandra Migaj, and Investigator Brian Ross of the Investigations Bureau, which is led by Deputy Chief Antoine Karan and Chief Dominick Zarrella. Senior Analyst Robert Vanwey of the Attorney General's office also worked on the investigation. Executive Deputy Attorney General Margaret Garnett leads the Criminal Justice Division.
The civil case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James M. Morrissey, and Senior Investigator Kenneth Peters and Investigator Erica Law. The Buffalo Regional Office is led by Assistant Attorney General in Charge Michael Russo. The Division of Regional Offices is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs Marty Mack.