Anti-gang group says $800K in promised funds hasn't arrived

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BRENTWOOD -

A group that provides counseling and outreach to help kids stay out of gangs says it has not yet received funds it was promised one year ago from Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone and state Assemblyman Phil Ramos. 

Bellone had promised S.T.R.O.N.G. $500,000 and Ramos pledged $300,000 in state funds for the purpose of combating MS-13 in the wake of gang murders. 

"If we don't provide the resources, MS-13 will," said Bellone in April 2016. 

The executive director of S.T.R.O.N.G. tells News 12 Long Island, "It's an illusion that S.T.R.O.N.G. has gotten the money. We have not [received] one penny." 

The group says the county actually signed the contract only a week ago, which is not enough time to launch the program in Brentwood this year. The father of Nisa Mickens, one of the two Brentwood teen girls allegedly slashed by MS-13 gang members one year ago, says he expected the program to be up and running by the start of the school year. 

"I don't want to say I'm annoyed, but I am upset it has not started yet, because this is something the community needs," said Robert Mickens. 

Bellone tells News 12 that the grant process is complicated and that he never promised when the money would be delivered.

"You want to make sure the program is targeting the right thing, and pulling the resources together and leveraging the resources that are out there," says Bellone. 

The deputy chief of staff for Assemblyman Phil Ramos emailed News 12 the state budget bill, which shows the $300,000 intended for S.T.R.O.N.G. He could not give a firm date as to when S.T.R.O.N.G. would actually get the check, saying it's a "process."

Sergio Argueta, the founder and board president of S.T.R.O.N.G., called the delay a "travesty." 

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