"Congeniality over conscience": Jewish leaders, including Ratner, wrote letters in support for criminal Rapfogel
William Rapfogel, the city’s legendary giant of the Jewish nonprofit world and good friend of indicted ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is in prison for looting $9 million from the organization he ran for two decades, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.The rest of the piece is here.
A reverse Robin Hood for poor Jews, the 59-year-old Rapfogel, who pocketed $3 million and was caught with $420,000 in cash, appeared unlikely to prompt much support when he pled guilty last year. Exploiting a mine lode of public subsidies funneled mostly through Silver, Rapfogel admitted to financing what court papers called “a lavish lifestyle” by taking up to $30,000-a-month from an insurance company his organization deliberately overpaid. Every dollar consumed by this scam was a dollar less for services to the poor.
Nonetheless, 70 Rapfogel backers, including 19 rabbis, several politicians, and some of the city and country’s most prominent leaders of Jewish organizations, petitioned Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to go easy on Rapfogel, who the New York Times said was frequently called the “prince of the Jews.” The letters—sent shortly before his April guilty plea—were obtained by City & State under the Freedom of Information Act. They are a triumph of congeniality over conscience, with the call of the club taking precedence over the betrayal of the mission. The Jewish poor are invisible in this correspondence.
..Developer Bruce Ratner attended Rapfogel’s son’s bar mitzvah, partnered with a Rapfogel housing company, gave a million dollars to Met Council on Jewish Poverty, and hired Rapfogel’s son at the same time that Silver and Rapfogel supported his effort to take over a prize Lower Eastside site.....At least two of the letter-writers were major donors to Schneiderman: Bruce Ratner and his wife gave $37,500...
As I've written, some questions regarding the Ratner-Rapfogel relationship were never explored. While William Rapfogel's co-defendent David Cohen asked their co-conspirator at insurer Century Coverage Corporation to make campaign contributions--using straw donors, in some cases--there's no explanation regarding specific acts.
It didn't make sense for College Point, NY resident Deborah Auletta, a Century employee, to give $175 to Delia Hunley-Adossa's longshot 2009 challenge to popular 35th District Council incumbent Letitia James, the leading Atlantic Yards opponent.
Also, the Barclays Center chose to give the Met Council--and a music camp--profits from a 2/28/13 cantorial concert. I thought investigators might look into any ulterior motives, like buffing the developer's relationship with Silver as a prelude to that Seward Park bid, but apparently they didn't go that far.
More on the Rapfogel deal
In a separate article on the settlement, Barrett writes:
Rapfogel, who is in Wallkill medium security prison until at least December 2016 (when he gets his first parole hearing), was not compelled to forfeit from his own pocket the equivalent of the $3 million he stole. He instead raised the bulk of the restitution from supporters who gave to a fund whose donors remain shrouded in secrecy. [Defense attorneys] Shectman and Vinegrad refused to say anything about where these contributions came from, how they were collected or what percent of the total was anonymously donated.
Since Sheldon Silver was still Speaker of the Assembly when the restitution was solicited (he has since been indicted on corruption charges and stepped down) and Rapfogel’s wife Judy was, and still is, Silver’s chief of staff, good-government crusader Schneiderman surely must have understood that contributors to the fund might be seeking favor with two of the most powerful people in Albany. In fact, had Rapfogel been unable to raise much of the millions from supporters, he and his wife might have lost their valuable Grand Street co-op, their modest Monticello cottage or other assets, surely making the effort to collect these undisclosed donations a family imperative.
Schneiderman’s restitution remedy actually opened the door to the kind of insider horsetrading that the Attorney General has long condemned and that still dominates the state capital. The Rapfogel fund is so insulated from oversight that Schneiderman’s office claims it has no documents related to it and did not answer numerous questions about it—such as whether the prosecutor had the power to require disclosure of donors. (A top former state prosecutor says he did).
The office could have attempted to collect the full restitution by seizing Rapfogel's assets or forcing him to sell them. Instead, all it did was secure what [AG spokeswoman] DeBold said was a “significant portion” of the $3 million from Rapfogel’s “personal assets.” At another point, she said it was “substantial,” carefully chosen words that conceal more than clarify.