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    Modest needs? Charity founder accused of embezzling $2.5 million to fund lavish lifestyle

    The charity was called Modest Needs but federal prosecutors who filed charges against its founder say his weren’t

    NEW YORK — The charity was called Modest Needs but federal prosecutors who filed charges against its founder say his weren’t.

    Rather, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan say, Modest Needs founder Keith Taylor had such expensive tastes that he embezzled more than $2.5 million from the charity between 2016 and May 2024 and spent it on meals at some of New York City’s priciest restaurants as well as cosmetic surgery and a luxury apartment.

    Taylor, 56, was accused in a federal complaint unsealed Tuesday with embezzling funds intended to serve Modest Needs’ mission of helping the needy, evading more than $1 million in taxes and creating a fake board of directors who supposedly had approved his personal expenses.

    “As alleged, Keith Taylor falsely claimed that donations to his charity would help working families with unexpected expenses that put them at risk of homelessness,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release. “Instead, Taylor allegedly took those donations to pay for his meals at upscale restaurants, rent for a luxury apartment in a Manhattan skyscraper, and even cosmetic surgery.”

    Williams said Taylor “unconscionably took money from the pockets of those most in need, and he is now facing federal charges for his alleged crimes.”

    Taylor’s attorney, Brian Ketcham, said his client “denies the charges and looks forward to clearing his name.”

    Taylor founded Modest Needs in 2002 to help low-income families and individuals pay for expenses like medical bills or broken appliances.

    The charity, which used crowdfunding to recruit donors, won praise for its small-scale philanthropy.

    “Modest Needs is one of a new crop of Web not-for-profits that put a face on charity and give donors the sense that they’re fixing problems directly,” Forbes reported in 2008.

    But federal prosecutors say that Taylor stole more than $2.5 million from Modest Needs and its donors and used the money on his own expenses such as $300,000 for his own rent on the 30th floor of a Manhattan high-rise and $320,000 on expensive restaurants including Per Se, Jean-Georges, Masa and Marea.

    The menu at Marea lists a dry-aged ribeye at $240, and Per Se’s nine-course tasting menu is $390.

    According to the complaint, Taylor tried to hide his embezzlement by falsely listing acquaintances as members of the charity’s board of directors and claiming that the board had approved his expenses.

    The purported board members included a bartender at Jean-Georges, a friend and the friend’s house cleaner, none of whom knew that they had been listed on the charity’s website as board members, prosecutors said.

    Additionally, prosecutors said, Taylor did not file personal income tax returns or pay income taxes on the money he had received from the charity for at least the calendars years of 2017 through 2022.

    Taylor is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He appeared in court Tuesday and was released on bond.

    It was unclear whether Modest Needs was still operating Wednesday. An email sent through its website seeking comment was not returned.

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