BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Parents and former employees of an unlicensed summer camp shuttered by the Health Department last week are calling on city officials to force the camp’s director to refund parents and pay jilted employees they say he owes in unpaid wages.
Camp Bed-Stuy, run by Andre Lewis, an ex-con with a history of drug use, was shut down Aug. 9 when health inspectors found Lewis was operating the camp without a permit.
The sudden closure left parents who had paid to send their kids to the camp through August scrambling for alternative childcare and demanding that Lewis pay back the money they had paid in advance. But some parents have been waiting even longer for a refund.
Tiffany Hall, who pulled her 5-year-old daughter out of the camp last summer, said Lewis wrote her a check for $500 after weeks of avoiding her and her husband, but the check bounced and she never heard back from Lewis again, she said.
“He was dodging phone calls, ignoring us, and outright lying to us,” Hall said. “Finally we just kind of gave up.”
Another mom, Samalia Dixon, whose 4-year-old son was due to start at Camp Bed-Stuy on Monday, said she was hoping to get back the $575 she had put down for one session this month and an abbreviated session at the end of the month. According to Dixon, when she emailed Lewis about getting a refund for the session, her email bounced back, and he failed to answer any of her phone calls.
“I haven’t heard back from him at all,” she said.
A representative of the Department of Consumer Affairs suggested that parents submit complaints to that agency, and another city official recommended parents and former staffers file complaints in small claims court.
So far, at least one parent, Renee Sealey, has filed a complaint against Lewis in Brooklyn small-claims court, seeking to recoup $575, court records show. Sealey did not respond to a request for comment, but in a Facebook comment on the camp’s page she said Lewis had “strung her along” for more than a year when she tried to get the money back.
It's not just parents who say Lewis owes them.
Amari Gladden, 20, worked as a counselor for nearly two months in 2016. Despite being promised $10 an hour, Gladden ended up working 50 hours a week all summer for nearly no pay, with checks coming sporadically. And when they did, most of the checks bounced, Gladden said.
In total, Lewis paid Gladden $500 last summer for hundreds of hours of work, Gladden said. This year, Lewis paid Gladden another $200 through Venmo, and sent another $50 through PayPal this summer, Gladden said.
“He was like a scam artist,” Gladden said. “When I saw he was doing a camp again this summer I was like, ‘how is this possible?’ He’s basically taking the parent’s money and using it for something else.”
The camp is only the latest in a string of child-care and educational ventures by Lewis, including a pre-school that closed suddenly in 2007, leaving parents scrambling to find child care; a free-breakfast program called A Better Brooklyn Community Center — that federal investigators successfully prosecuted Lewis in 2009 for stealing $500,000 in Department of Agriculture grants — was nothing more than a shell organization meant to pay Lewis; and an attempt to open a camp in Fort Greene was shut down by angry parents in 2009.
Lewis, who last week pledged to “rebuild” and reopen the camp, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.