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Health Department Investigated Illegal Summer Camp a Year Before Closing It

By Noah Hurowitz | September 27, 2017 3:43pm
 Andre Lewis (right) ran an unlicensed summer camp in Bed-Stuy and took kids on field trips including attending a rally for Mayor Bill de Blasio on July 12.
Andre Lewis (right) ran an unlicensed summer camp in Bed-Stuy and took kids on field trips including attending a rally for Mayor Bill de Blasio on July 12.
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Ramon King

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — The city investigated an illegal summer camp nearly a year before inspectors finally shut it down for operating without a permit, according to newly released internal records.

Convicted felon Andre Lewis told city officials that he "voluntarily" closed down Camp Bed-Stuy on Aug. 30, 2016 after inspectors from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found it was operating without proper permitting, according to documents released to DNAinfo New York in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.

But that did not stop him from reopening the camp for the summer of 2017 and continuing to operate without the proper paperwork until August, when inspectors finally closed the camp after repeated complaints from parents and an investigation by DNAinfo.

READ MORE: Jilted Parents and Employees Demand Refund from Shuttered Bed-Stuy Camp

Now, Lewis — whose Facebook page lists him as "Visionary Leader" of the camp — has been slapped with $6,800 in fines after skipping a hearing before the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, at which he was due Aug. 30 of this year to face accusations committing seven violations of city regulations, according to agency records. 

Lewis has a long history of running shoddy child care programs going back more than a decade, including a “toxic” preschool in Brooklyn that was shut down in November 2007, according to news reports at the time, and a sham free breakfast program through which he stole $500,000 in food grants from the federal government, according to court records.

In 2009 he was convicted in Brooklyn federal court for the misappropriation of funds from the Department of Agriculture, for which he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay full restitution. Lewis, who repeatedly failed court-mandated drug tests, was barred from ever running a nonprofit again, and angry parents shut down an earlier attempt in 2009 to start a summer camp, while he was still facing the federal charges, according to the Daily News

But after a few years out of the spotlight, he quietly opened an after-school program called UberAcademic, which later morphed into UberCamp and, by the summer of 2016, was renamed Camp Bed-Stuy, according to Lewis’s social media posts.

In the time that he was running the camp, Lewis repeatedly failed to pay staffers both summers according to several former counselors who spoke with DNAinfo. Parents complained the camp was poorly organized. He repeatedly ignored demands to refund camp fees, according to parents and screenshots of communications Lewis that were shared with DNAinfo.

So far, at least two parents have brought complaints against Lewis in Brooklyn small claims court, records show, and staffers from 2016 and 2017 are still trying to get paid overdue wages.

The Health Department shut down Camp Bed-Stuy Aug. 9, 2017 after inspectors saw 32 children with just two counselors at Herbert Von King Park, in violation of the regulation that any camp operating with more than 10 children requires a permit.

The inspection came a day after DNAinfo began investigating complaints from multiple parents that Lewis was running the camp, which parents described as poorly organized to the point of danger, without a permit.

Following the closure of the camp on Aug. 9, a spokeswoman for the city Health Department said it had first received complaints about Camp Bed-Stuy on July 21 of this year, and sent inspectors out July 24 and July 25 to investigate, but on both days inspectors did not see more than 10 children in any one place. 

That timeline is contradicted by the records released Tuesday, which show that the first complaint about the camp was made Aug. 29, 2016. Although inspectors who performed a site visit Aug. 30 of that year did not find more than 10 children in attendance, Lewis volunteered to close the camp down in order to get the paperwork done right, records show.

In a letter to the department dated Aug. 30, 2016, Lewis thanked the inspectors for their diligence and pledged to get the required permits.

“Our desire is to comply and be an official Summer Day Camp with a NYC DOH permit; we desire to be in good standing,” wrote Lewis, who at that time had been running the camp all summer without a permit, records show.

Lewis did go through the early motions of applying for a permit to operate this summer, but he did not finish the paperwork, and ran the camp until its final closure Aug. 9 with no permission from the city.

Carolina Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Health Department defended the agency’s attempts to investigate the operation prior to its closure.

“As soon as we received complaints regarding Mr. Lewis operating an unpermitted summer camp, we mobilized staff to investigate,” she wrote in an email. “Each time we conducted inspections Mr. Lewis managed to have under 10 children under his care, which is less than the number of children that constitutes a summer camp under regulations.”

In addition to running the camp without a license, Lewis also flouted employment regulations, by failing to perform the required background and sex-offender registry checks on staffers, according to Health Department records and former staff members.

After the closure of the camp, he was hit with seven violations, totaling $6,800 in fines, records show. He skipped an Aug. 30 hearing, resulting in Lewis being hit with the default penalty for each violation, a decision that is he may appeal within 60 days from the missed hearing, according to a spokeswoman for the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

Lewis did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a Facebook post Tuesday morning he claimed to be working on a new request for proposals for a universal pre-K program.