“Homeless vets are being booted from NY hotels to make room for migrants: advocates,” a New York Post headline from last week read. “New York Hotels Evicting Homeless Veterans to House Migrants,” Newsweek said days later, joining in the outrage. “As many as 20 homeless veterans were booted from hotels in upstate New York to presumably make room for the influx of migrants,” Fox told its audience shortly thereafter.
And it turns out, the whole story was made up.
Mid Hudson News reports that seven homeless men have come forward and revealed they were recruited to pretend to be veterans who were displaced from a hotel—with the subtext being that migrants were taking their spots—all so a nonprofit organization could pull off a mass fraudulent scheme on the entire country.
The men told the outlet they were part of a group of 15 who were directed by the Yerik Israel Toney, or YIT, Foundation to pretend to be veterans kicked out of the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh, New York. The men were recruited at a homeless shelter, where they were promised $200 along with food and alcohol. All they had to do was take a trip to participate in a discussion on homelessness with an elected official. After agreeing, the men were all loaded up into vehicles and moved to a diner, where they met the lead fraudster: Sharon Toney-Finch, the founder of YIT. She told them to order whatever they wanted from the menu.
“We ate like kings,” one of the men said. “Sharon introduced herself and told us we could have whatever we wanted and she would pick up the tab.” After the royal meal, Toney-Finch took them to the parking lot and laid out the real plan: Go to a meeting and act like they were veterans displaced from their hotels to make room for migrants.
The storyline was a hook, line, and sinker for the right: A hotel kicked out American veterans to make room for an influx of migrants being shipped to the town. A media firestorm quickly slammed officials for a completely made-up occurrence.
Republican Assemblyman Brian Maher even denounced the hotel by name, going on to attack the federal government’s dealings with migrants and asylum-seekers. “So the Biden administration, Governor Hochul, and the city of New York, they all have a part in this, and it’s a total embarrassment,” Maher said on Fox & Friends First. “It’s a slap in the face to veterans, to citizens of New York in this country, who are really being cast aside to allow for asylum-seekers to come here.”
Maher spoke highly of Toney-Finch, perpetrator of the fraudulent story. “Sharon spoke out, and now she’s getting hate messages. She asked me to handle this interview today because she wants to focus on the veterans,” Maher said on Fox’s airwaves. “And by the way, one of these veterans, 30 years old, he was there for the Afghanistan pullout. For me, one of the most embarrassing moments for our country in our history. And after getting home, he was kicked out of this hotel trying to reintegrate back into our society.” Maher even appealed to the public to donate to the YIT Foundation.
But pulling on one lie opened up another and another. Toney-Finch used a $37,800 hotel receipt as proof she paid for the veterans’ housing herself. But a hotel manager found “no veteran organizations” in the system. “There were no, absolutely no, veterans that were staying here that were asked to leave because of, you know, the migrants that were coming to stay here. Nobody was evicted. That’s for sure.”
Maher pressed Toney-Finch to provide bank records proving that her nonprofit was paying for hotel housing for the veterans. Soon thereafter, Toney-Finch admitted to him that perhaps things were not as they seemed. Maher, for his part, has said he simply took Toney-Finch and the “veterans” at their word.
Thousands of people across the country were duped, misled, and had any potential biases and prejudices further inflamed by this story. And again, it was all made up. But Fox, the New York Post, Newsweek, and a horde of other outlets ran with it anyway.
“We are disgusted, but not surprised, to learn that the New York Post’s front-page story pitting homeless veterans against asylum-seekers was a complete lie,” said Aaron Narraph Fernando, of populist grassroots organization For the Many. “This fake story of George Santos proportions has already made its way into the national media and kicked up a storm of anti-immigrant hatred. It has turned local residents against migrants, sending xenophobic, racist outrage toward asylum-seekers who are simply trying to make a new home for themselves in Newburgh.”