An Amherst law firm is apologizing for Halloween costumes mocking homeless foreclosure victims.
AMHERST, NY - At first glance, the pictures look like any other photographs taken at a Halloween Party. But these pictures inspired a column in The New York Times, and subsequent stories across the web.
The pictures were allegedly taken at a company party last year in Amherst, held at the law firm of Steven J. Baum, that represents major mortgage lenders such as Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and during the foreclosure process. The pictures were sent to Times columnist Joe Nocera by an ex-employee, and he wrote that she believed they "showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners - invariably poor and down on their luck - that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against."
A reaction that was mirrored here in Western New York.
"My reaction was just utter, total outrage," said Dale Zuchlewski, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance of Western New York. "It's disgusting."
"To do it with such insensitivity, they obviously have no concern for their clients," said Zuchlewski.
Tuesday, Zuchlewski wrote a letter to Baum, calling for a public apology and for employees to educate themselves through volunteer work. He offered his own services to help educate employees on the homeless population in Western New York. Zuchlewski said 60 percent of the people that became homeless last year were finding themselves in that position for the first time; many of them were women and children.
"The office could adopt some families down at the Matt Urban Hope Center that need help," said Zuchlewski.
Through a communications firm, Baum has issued several statements. The first is as follows:
"The images in the photographs that were recently published by The New York Times obviously were in very poor taste. In fact, we had our annual Halloween party this past week at our various locations and we reiterated our company policy as it pertains to wearing appropriate costumes. No one is permitted to wear a costume that could be interpreted as being offensive.
"At this year's party we raised money for the American Red Cross. Our office continues to be active in the community and has donated to Habitat for Humanity, Hospice of Buffalo and the Ronald McDonald Foundation among others. We have held various fundraisers for our servicemen and women. We are also involved in the Military Warriors Foundation, in having our clients donate foreclosed homes to soldiers in need.
"On behalf of the firm, I sincerely apologize for what happened last year at our Halloween party."
The second, was issued Tuesday:
"I again want to sincerely apologize for the inappropriate costumes worn by some of our employees at our Halloween Party in 2010. It was in extremely poor taste and I take full responsibility. I know people are extremely offended and they have every right to be upset with me and my firm."