Synagogues, Asylums Rackets’ Prey
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Synagogues, Asylums Rackets’ Prey

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Synagogues and orphan asylums in dire financial straits fall easy prey to the so-called charity promotion agencies.

A promoter calls at the office of a synagogue. He says he will undertake a campaign for funds. There will be no trouble or expense to the institution. The promoter will give a percentage to the synagogue and keep the rest.

The officers of the synagogue welcome what they regard as a Godsend. They sign the necessary agreement. The promotion agency goes about collecting funds by the usual methods of telephone solicitation and form letters. Sometimes the promoter forwards to the synagogue the twenty or thirty per cent, he has promised, sometimes less, for the synagogue officials have no way of ascertaining precisely how much was collected.


In the meantime the synagogue may find that its reputation has been destroyed. Unscrupulous promoters will use various shady methods of obtaining funds, including fanciful promises, all of which the synagogue will be obliged to back.

Through the agency’s sole interest in immediate gain the synagogue may find that future opportunities of campaigning for funds are ruined by the stigma attached to it as a result of the agency’s methods.

Not all charity promoters are swindlers. There are a number of large and reputable agencies in the United states, but they will seldom carry on a campaign for less than $100,000 and then only for a large institution.

The Department of Public Welfare has set twenty-five to thirty per cent, as a fair commission for a promotion agency. Promoters who ask seventy or eighty per cent, and who will carry on a drive for a small synagogue are usually racketeers.

Every Jewish catastrophe engenders a multitude of charity rackets. Already “emergency committees” are in the process of formation to collect funds to “rehabilitate the stricken Algerian Jews.”


Similar committees sprang up with the pogroms in Russia and Poland, the persecution of the Jews in Germany, and the floods in Tiberias. These committees take advantage of the fact that the horror of the catastrophe is still vivid in the mind of the Jew who has just read the newspaper accounts.

At least half of these newly established groups are rackets. Little if any of the money collected by these fly-by-night committees reaches its destination.

Telephone solicitation is considered by the racketeers the best method of collecting funds. There is no letterhead, signature, or other bothersome detail which may later be used as evidence. Because it is the most convenient method, phone solicitation has been so exploited that racketeers have been obliged to employ other methods.

Chief among these is the mail campaign. A number of reputable charities each year send appeals to the public in the form of circulars endorsing inexpensive articles, such as handkerchiefs and pencils. Numerous racketeers, however, also have adopted this method. If the recipient of an article of merchandise is dubious of the organization sending it, he is advised to forward the circular to the Post Office Department, which will investigate thoroughly.

$3,000,000 A YEAR

In an interview yesterday with Samuel Slone, Department of Welfare investigator, it was learned that the amount of money mulcted from the New York public is estimated at about $3,000,000 per year. This vast sum could support numerous real charities which today are desperately in need of money.

A method of defrauding the public which has come into widespread use in recent years is the door-to-door peddling of merchandise ostensibly for charity.

The defrauders advertise daily in New York metropolitan newspaper classified columns for peddlers. These peddlers sell merchandise, usually cosmetics, on commission. Arrangement is made with orphan asylums and other charitable institutions whereby they receive percentages of the proceeds for use of their names.

Fortified with the agreements with charity organizations, peddlers canvass apartments in Jewish neighborhoods selling cosmetics at exorbitant prices. The portion received by the charitable institution averages five per cent. In many cases names of institutions are used without permission, and often the names are fictitious.


Returning to the subject of telephone solicitation, a representative case was found in the files of the Department of Public Welfare.

The Haven of Relief is alleged to have ‘phoned S. B. Booth, president of the Interborough News Company, last March, and to have asked for a donation in the name of Mayor LaGuardia.

Booth sent a check for $50 to the Mayor and directed him to forward it to the charity if the Mayor approved of it. The Mayor returned the check and sent the information to the Department of Public Welfare.

The Department, with the cooperation of the District Attorney’s office, prosecuted, but was unable to secure a conviction because the telephone conversation was not accepted in court as evidence. The voice could not be identified.

Deputy Commissioner of Welfare Stanley H. Howe yesterday told this reporter that Mayor LaGuardia has often been annoyed by reports that the Haven of Relief or somebody representing himself as an agent of the Haven has solicited contributions by telephoning in the Mayor’s name.


Another complaint against the Haven of Relief was found in the files of the Department. It was a letter which read:

“As per our conversation with you, we are enclosing the letter and receipt received by Mr. —, president of our organization, from the Haven of Relief.

“This contribution was originally solicited by Mr. Fontanelle by means of a high-pressure telephone conversation with Mr. —. Mr. —, before consenting to make the contribution turned the matter over to Mr. —, the office manager, who requested a letter from Mr. Fontanelle containing some information about the Haven of Relief.

“On the same day that the letter was requested a motorcyclist delivered both the letter and the receipt that we are now mailing you. The motorcyclist was most insistent about immediate payment, but due to the absence of both Mr. — and Mr. — no payment was forthcoming.

“Since then we received several calls from Mr. Fontanelle urging quick payment. In his last call he brought the name of both Mayor LaGuardia and President Roosevelt into his conversation.

The Fontanelle referred to in the letter was Joseph A. Fontanelle, Commissioner Howe said, then under indictment for grand larceny. Because he had been a municipal court justice for thirty days, he was entitled to call himself “Judge Fontanelle” over the ‘phone.

The Haven of Refuge changed its name after a bona fide charity with a similar name took out an injunction. It is operating today under the new name, which is in the possession of the Jewish Daily Bulletin and will be released with other information, in the near future.

The District Attorney’s office has consistently failed to obtain convictions against charity rackets employing telephone solicitation, because the court will not accept identification of the voice over the ‘phone.


The courts always have been lenient with messengers because they are only minor pawns in the vast charity racket. Court records show they usually have been let off with suspended sentences.

The Department of Public Welfare as well as numerous other agencies have repeatedly appealed to the public not to respond to telephone solicitations.

Amendment of the charity ordinance giving the Department licensing power over charities incorporated as religious congregations, a power it now exercises over all other charities, will give the Department a strong weapon to break up the charity rackets.

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