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Vera House scraps annual gala after backlash to hiring controversy

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The Vera House Foundation is calling off its annual fundraising event this year after a whistleblower claimed a convicted sex offender that worked for the organization had access to minors. This prompted an investigation by the New York State Office of Victim Services first reported on by CNY Central. The mission of Vera House is to help victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The foundation that supports the organization released a statement Friday that it was forgoing the gala to take time to reflect and regain trust.

As a result of community backlash to the hire, co-executive director, Randi Bregman stepped down. Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said earlier this week he thinks Bregman is a good person with the organization’s best interests at heart, and that her resignation allows the organization to move past their mistake.

“I appreciated that Miss Bregman talked about the importance of impact versus intent. And again, I think the organization needs to continue to look inward, reflect on how they got to the point that they’re in, and more importantly reflect on how they can move forward in a way that supports those that they serve," Walsh said Wednesday at an event unrelated to Vera House.

Angela Douglas is now serving as the sole executive director of Vera House. The nonprofit's board of trustees said in a statement last week that Bregman will continue to provide support during her transition out of the role, but she won’t set policy or oversee staff. The board is also conducting a review of hiring, personnel, and governance policies, according to the statement.

The outrage comes after a whistleblower claimed a convicted sex offender that worked for Vera House had access to minors. The agency's leadership told CNY Central on Aug. 9 they were aware of Marcus Jackson's past, but he was barred from interacting with people under 18. In an Aug. 18 statement, however, Douglas and Bregman said an internal investigation revealed he did have contact with a 17-year-old, their mother and a nurse in December 2021.

Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, poverty, and identity.