BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The director of an unlicensed summer camp shutttered Wednesday by city health inspectors pledged to "rebuild" and reopen the camp, ignoring calls from parents and former employees to pay back the money they say he owes them.
Camp Bed-Stuy director Andre Lewis asked parents and staff to stick with him as he attempts to straighten things out with the city, promising to "move forward as a collective," even as he announced the cancellation of all camp activities and trips until next week.
"We want you to know that the questions you may have concerning recent allegations against Camp Bedstuy have not gone unnoticed," Lewis wrote in a note posted to the camp’s Facebook page. "Although there have been recent hurdles along the way, it is my hope that you continue to build with us in our quest to maintain quality service for youth in our community."
Parents of former campers, including Dalila Scott, strongly urged Lewis to stay out of the childcare field forever.
“If Andre A. Lewis/Andy/Andrew, just a few of his aliases, was to resurface somehow to operate any type of business that involves the health of children, I would have to say that the agencies, administration, and politicians failed the children,” she said Thursday in a text message.
Lewis, who in 2009 was convicted of stealing $500,000 in government funds from a free breakfast program he started, did not immediately respond to questions about his plan to reopen.
Officials with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shut down Camp Bed-Stuy on Wednesday morning for operating without a license.
Despite the regulation that any camp with more than 10 children obtain a permit from the city, Lewis had been openly running the $500-per-session camp and taking dozens of children on free-wheeling, often poorly organized romps around the city since the beginning of July, according to parents and former employees.
The camp’s website claims to have been in operation for five years, but a health hepartment spokeswoman said Lewis had never obtained a permit from the city under any of the various names he had used for the operation, which included Uber Academic, Uber Camps, and since 2016, Camp Bed-Stuy.
A health department source said the agency had been investigating the camp since July 21, when they first received a complaint from parents, but only managed to catch a group with more than 10 children on Wednesday, prompting them to immediately suspend the camp.
The sudden shutdown led to a chaotic scramble as the remaining counselors tried to contact parents, with some children still waiting in Herbert Von King Park at 5 p.m. — six hours after the camp was suspended and four hours after counselors began contacting parents.
In addition to parents who already paid for sessions through the end of August, former employees have complained that Lewis stiffed them on wages.
Ramon King said he is still owed more than $1,500 for three weeks of work during which he said Lewis failed to pay him and at least three other staffers.
A health department spokeswoman did not immediately comment on the likelihood of Lewis obtaining a permit to operate the camp.