Saturday, December 24, 2016

Prominent De Blasio Fundraiser And Satmar Hasidic Lobbyist Arrested For Food Stamp Fraud 

Federal agents have arrested a prominent Satmar Hasidic lobbyist and fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio on charges that he defrauded the food stamp program. Prosecutors accuse Isaac Sofer, head of governmental relations for the Central United Talmudical Academy, a Satmar Hasidic institution and one of the largest yeshivas in Brooklyn, of lying about his income and assets to collect $30,500 in food stamps benefits from 2012 to 2016.

Sofer's Williamsburg-based yeshiva organization held a fundraiser for de Blasio in 2013 following the mayoral primary, and shortly after the Aroni Satmar sect—followers of one of two feuding sons of Satmar leader Grand Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum—endorsed de Blasio.

Sofer has allegedly been collecting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits since 2010, with the provable fraud allegedly beginning in 2012, when he filled out a life insurance policy application listing his income as $100,000 a year and his assets as $600,000. He allegedly got the $1 million life insurance policy, but on subsequent food stamp applications listed his income at $0 to $25,000, declared no assets, and denied having a life insurance policy.

The Daily News reports that Sofer may have been questioned about his 2015 lobbying to mayoral Jewish liaison Avi Fink about development issues. Fink was reportedly questioned this year by the city comptroller about his meeting with a de Blasio donor who wanted, and got, a deed restriction lifted on the Rivington House nursing home, which the developer immediately turned around and sold to become luxury condos.

In a statement to reporters, Michael Tobman, consultant to the Aroni Satmar, said that Sofer's alleged fraud has no bearing on the community, and probably isn't a crime.

"It's apparent this is a personal matter having nothing to do with the community, or its institutions," he said. "I am sure, when all the facts come to light, this arrest will be revealed as a federal overreach, and more appropriate for a civil proceeding."

Central United Talmudical Academy was raided by the FBI in March, and the Forward reported that it is the subject of a separate federal investigation into possible fraud involving the National School Lunch Program. Last year, the Daily News published video that purportedly shows a teacher at one of the school's 15 buildings giving 5-year-olds the answers to an English assessment exam. The school is among those that have come under fire from parents of yeshiva students for failing to provide required secular education. The city has consistently refused to do anything to ensure that the schools do provide it (an Education Department investigation announced last year has not produced any public results, and the agency has wavered on whether it would consist of questionnaires for school administrators or pre-scheduled visits, which parents say would be inadequate to spot the problems).


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