May 8


Lawsuit puts civic leader in hot seat

Clover Group CEO Michael Joseph is a big donor to politicians and chairs the board of Roswell Park, among other endeavors. A federal lawsuit accuses his company of racial discrimination.

Real estate mogul Michael Joseph has found himself at the helm of two organizations embroiled in allegations of racist practices.

This week Joseph’s real estate development and management company, the Clover Group, has been accused by a former employee of “racist and illegal” practices. A lawsuit filed Monday accuses Clover executives of disqualifying potential building sites based on the number of Black people in the surrounding communities.

And Roswell Park Cancer Institute — where Joseph has been board chair since 2010 — has faced a slew of lawsuits alleging race and gender discrimination in the workplace during his long tenure there. Last summer five members of Roswell’s board rebelled against the response to those complaints by the cancer center’s leadership, including Joseph.

Related story: Former employee sues Clover, alleging racist practices

It’s a peculiar position for a businessman who has spent 35 years building alliances with Democrats and civic organizations that publicly condemn racism.

Joseph, 64, founded the Clover Group in 1987 and serves as the company’s president and chief executive officer. According to its website, the company has purchased or developed more than 10,000 apartment units and 800,000 square feet of commercial space in seven states. The company says it currently manages about 7,000 rental units.

As the company has grown, so has Joseph’s public persona. Joseph and his wife, Roberta, are big donors to elected officials, individually and through a constellation of  companies controlled by Clover. In aggregate, they’ve given more than $660,000 to candidates and other political campaign committees over the past 20 years — mostly, though not exclusively, to Democrats. 

The biggest beneficiary by far of the Josephs’ political contributions was Andrew Cuomo, the former governor. But they’ve supported every New York governor over the past two decades, going back to Republican George Pataki. They’ve been generous with Gov. Kathy Hochul, as well, dating back to her short tenure as a member of Congress.

Joseph has also donated to the campaign of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and served as chairman of his transition team when he was first elected to the office.

Former Gov. David Paterson appointed Joseph to chair the board of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the state-funded cancer treatment and research center. During his 13-year tenure, Roswell Park has been hit with at least 15 lawsuits alleging race and gender discrimination in the workplace.

Joseph also serves on the board of the AKG Art Museum, formerly known as the Albright-Knox. Previously he served on the boards of the Elmwood Franklin School, Buffalo Seminary, Jewish Federation of Western New York, University at Buffalo Foundation, Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies, the United Jewish Appeal Campaign, and Westwood Country Club.

Investigative Post sought an interview with or comment from Joseph, as well as the Clover executives Peter Rizzo, the former Clover employee turned whistleblower, named in his lawsuit. None responded to our inquiries, but a public relations firm Clover hired sent a written statement describing Rizzo as “an angry and disgruntled former employee” and his allegations as “meritless, baseless, and misleading.”

“Clover does not make business decisions on the basis of any unlawful criteria,” the statement continued. “The company intends to defend itself vigorously.”

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The company's public relations firm subsequently stated:

“Michael Joseph has dedicated himself to extensive philanthropic activities that benefit others including the African American community.  He has built housing in predominantly African American communities like the Jill Joseph Tower in Buffalo’s East Side. 

“Mr. Joseph also has generously donated to organizations that benefit primarily African American communities right here at home like Say YES, the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, Beast Elite Ducks youth football, the City Mission, and Cornerstone Manner."

Joseph maintains a residence on Penhurst Avenue in Buffalo assessed at $779,000. (The property is owned by a limited liability corporation, a common practice among real estate developers.) He also lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., in a mansion he and his wife bought in 2021 for $15.9 million.

Joseph’s right hand at Clover is Richard Greenspan, whom the lawsuit filed Monday identifies as Joseph’s best friend and the enforcer of the company’s unwritten policy against building in communities that are not predominantly white. The policy is unwritten, according to the lawsuit filed Monday, but not unspoken: As evidence of his claims, Rizzo collected auto recordings of Clover executives discussing their reluctance to purchase and develop properties in neighborhoods with what they considered too many Black people — more that 20 percent, according to the lawsuit.

Greenspan is a past board member of Jewish Family Services of Greater Buffalo, the Jewish Federation of Buffalo, and the Jewish Community Center of Buffalo.

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After the lawsuit was filed, Rizzo’s attorneys sent copies of his claim to the organizations on whose boards Michael Joseph currently serves — Roswell Park and the AKG Art Museum. They also sent copies to Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology, the Elmwood Franklin School, and the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, where Joseph’s daughter — Allison Joseph Pendleton, Clover’s chief operating officer — currently serves. 

“I think those groups should take action,” said Nate McMurray of Advocates for Justice, the firm representing Rizzo in his lawsuit.

Rizzo told Investigative Post: “There's no way that this man did not know” about the company’s practice of vetting development sites based on racial demographics. “He has his thumb on the pulse of every decision that is made at the company. He is briefed regularly on everything, and his best friend is the guy who [is] the enforcer of the racist site selection policy.”

Coming Thursday: Clover's extensive use of subsidies to grown the business.

Investigative Post

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