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Hasidic Boys School in Williamsburg Admits to Widespread Fraud; Pays $8M as Gov’t Restitution


Hasidic Boys School in Williamsburg Admits to Widespread Fraud; Pays $8M as Gov’t Restitution

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The largest private Hasidic Jewish school in New York State admitted in federal court on Monday that they had illegally diverted millions of dollars from a variety of government programs, paid teachers off the books and requested reimbursements for meals for students that it never actually provided, according to a New York Times report.

As part of the widespread fraud, school officials took money intended to feed children and used it to subsidize parties for adults, federal prosecutors said.

In order to avoid facing criminal charges, the school, the Central United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, agreed to pay fines and restitution totaling more than $8 million, according to a deferred prosecution agreement filed Monday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, as was reported by the New York Times.

The all-boys school, which serves 2,000 youth in the Brooklyn neighborhood admitted to illegally shifting funds from government programs. Instead, the funds were used on parties and miscellaneous expenses not approved by the respective programs, the report indicated.

“Today’s admission makes clear there was a pervasive culture of fraud and greed in place at C.U.T.A.,” said Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s New York office, referring to the school by its initials in a statement. “We expect schools to be places where students are taught how to do things properly. The leaders of C.U.T.A. went out of their way to do the opposite.”

In court on Monday, a lawyer representing the yeshiva, Marc Mukasey, said school leaders would work collaboratively with the government to fulfill its obligations under the agreement, which has been in the works since 2019, the report said.  After the hearing, Mr. Mukasey declined to comment further. School leaders did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment, as was reported by the Times.

In recent weeks, the New York Times published an investigative piece about the alleged lack of secular studies programs in many yeshivas in the New York City area. The newspaper noted that some of these institutions were recipients of government funding and federal education grants.

For several years now, the New York Times has taken it upon itself to research the Hasidic private schools, writing about how the schools are “failing by design”.  The Times has taken a handful of Hasidic schools as a sample, faulting the private schools overall for minimal time invested in secular studies.

In response to the denigration heaped on yeshivas and the quality of education they provide to their students in the Times article, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel of the Agudath Israel organization which represents the views of the large swath of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City and across the United States, recently penned a letter to Eliza Shapiro and Brian Rosenthal, the two writers at the Times who produced the article in question.

Rabbi Zweibel said in this letter:  “The timing of this article is terrible. Hate crime statistics, specifically crimes targeting Jews, are spiking dramatically — and most of these crimes are being directed against Hasidic Jews. Is now the time to publish a major article in the most prestigious newspaper in the world portraying the Hasidic schools — and, by extension, the entire Hasidic community — in the most negative light imaginable? Obviously, no one in his right mind would accuse reporters with your surnames of being anti-Semitic, but don’t you realize how an article like this will fuel the anti-Semites of the world to escalate their attacks against Hasidic Jews?”

The Times also cites a standardized test in reading and math, administered in 2019 to 1000 students at the Central United Talmudical Academy, in which all students failed. The Times intentionally neglects to mention how other schools fared, or how many of the public schools throughout 37 states cheated on the same standardized test. The Times goes on to point at the public funding that the Hasidic schools have received over the years, saying the funding should be cut, because the schools allegedly fail to secure an adequate education to students.

The left-wing paper, continues pointing a finger at city and state officials for not taking action, saying this is because they fear backlash from influential Hasidic leaders who have a strong following when it comes time to vote. “There’s a significant population that you ignore at your peril,” said a political consultant quoted by the Times, Evan Stavisky, referring to the Hasidic community. “They are part of the fabric of New York politics.”

The Times also alleges that students are being “trapped” into dependency and joblessness, despite the fact that the government has endowed the schools with generous taxpayer funding– saying the Hasidic boys schools collected roughly $1 billion in the past four years.  Even the Times conceded that that “the schools receive far less taxpayer money per pupil than public schools do”.

The Times article also concluded that “students grow up and can barely support their own families”.  Still, as per the US Census Bureau data conducted this decade, the city’s greatest concentration of unemployment is by no means in Hasidic neighborhoods of New York City. Rather, such unemployment rates exist in districts 14, 15, 16, and 17 in the south and central West Bronx, and District 10 in northern Manhattan.

Hasidic Jews are, by and large employed in successful occupations.  The same article even conceded, “six days a week, often before the sun rises, boys file into classrooms and spend up to eight hours a day studying the Talmud and other ancient texts”, which clearly illustrates that the boys in these yeshivas receiving  a full day of instruction. The Times also alleged that corporal punishment is an acceptable occurrence in some of the Hasidic schools.  Richard Bamberger, spokesman for Hasidic schools, responded by saying the schools “have zero-tolerance policies against any violence.”

Speaking to the Jewish Voice on the condition of anonymity, a representative of the Tzedek Association, a Brooklyn based organization that advocates for Jewish education and other human rights causes, said on Tuesday that “The entire New York Times article was replete with countless egregious falsehoods and baseless accusations. He stated that, “the Times accuses yeshivas of employing corporeal punishment to students and that is patently untrue. There is absolutely no veracity to this insidious propaganda and the Times provided no concrete evidence to buttress its claim.”

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