May 11


Calls for consequences for Clover and its CEO

The Erie County Legislature added to a growing chorus of criticism directed at the company following the filing of a lawsuit alleging racist practices.

Pressure is growing on the Clover Group and its CEO, Michael Joseph, in the wake of a federal lawsuit accusing the company of “racist and illegal housing discrimination practices.” 

On Thursday, the Erie County Legislature unanimously passed a non-binding resolution calling for the dismissal of several Clover executives surreptitiously recorded discussing the company’s practice of avoiding areas with significant Black populations when choosing sites for senior apartment complexes. Joseph was not among those recorded in the conversations.

The resolution declares: “The allegations against the Clover Group and the corresponding evidence are clear and disturbing enough that immediate action needs to occur, in the form of termination of the persons and parties who were recorded on tape making racist statements.”

Legislators voted down, along party lines, a second non-binding resolution offered by the Republican minority that called for Joseph’s suspension from the boards of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly known at the Albright Knox Art Gallery, until an investigation is completed by an independent third party. 

Joseph has served as chairman at Roswell for 13 years. In the past eight years, the hospital has been hit with at least 15 lawsuits alleging race and gender discrimination in the workplace. Roswell has been criticized by several of its board members for its response to allegations of racial and gender discrimination.

“The allegations against the Clover Group have raised serious concerns about Michael Joseph’s ability to fulfill his duties as a board member,” the second resolution reads in part.

The hospital and museum, the resolution continued, “are important institutions in our community, and it is crucial that their board members are committed to upholding the values of fairness and equality and that board members of these institutions ensure that they are free from discriminatory practices and policies.”

All four Republicans in the Legislature voted in favor of the resolution; all seven Democrats voted against it, including Chairperson April Baskin.

Our Clover coverage this week

Joseph has donated $660,000 to political candidates over the past 20 years, almost exclusively to Democrats. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo alone received $222,499. Joseph has donated $34,000 to Mark Poloncarz, and served as chairman of his transition team when he was elected county executive in 2011.

Poloncarz, in a statement issued Wednesday, said the allegations against Joseph and other Clover Group executives are “deeply troubling.” 

“I sincerely hope Mr. Joseph was not aware of this activity at his company and that he takes appropriate action in light of this whistleblower complaint.”

Officials at several industrial development agencies that provided tax breaks to Clover developments also expressed concern. Clover projects in Western New York have received $1.67 million in property tax breaks and $11.8 million in low-interest state loans.

For example, Andrea Klyczek, assistant director of the Niagara County IDA, said the agency is “extremely concerned about the allegations being set forth in the lawsuit regarding a project that dates back to 2003.” 

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The action by the County Legislature followed a call Wednesday by University District Common Council Member Rasheed Wyatt for Joseph’s removal from his board positions at Roswell and the art museum. 

One of Clover’s senior apartment complexes is located in Wyatt’s district. He said he was “appalled” at the allegations made in the lawsuit and complained about conditions at the Clover complex in his district, which he said the company has failed to adequately address.

After the civil lawsuit was filed Monday, attorneys for the plaintiff, Peter Rizzo, sent copies of his claim to Roswell 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. 

Neither Roswell nor the art museum have responded publicly to the calls for Joseph’s removal. 

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The lawsuit describes Clover executives using the terms “Canadians” and “the Canadian factor” as a code for discussing the number of Black people living in proximity to a proposed development site. A surrounding population more than 20 percent Black was sufficient cause for Clover to reject the site, the lawsuit claims.

Rizzo, while a Clover employee, recorded company executives in January using the coded language, acknowledging the meaning of the code, and explaining that building in communities the executives considered “heavily Black” was “tough” because there might be an “issue with residents paying their rent.” 

Joseph and other Clover executives have not responded to interview requests from Investigative Post. Instead, a public relations firm issued statements on behalf of the firm.

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

Said another: “Michael Joseph has dedicated himself to extensive philanthropic activities that benefit others including the African American community.”

Investigative Post

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