Four New Yorkers charged with pocketing aid for Israel


(JTA) — New York state’s attorney general accused four New Yorkers of pocketing more than $2.5 million in donations for charitable projects in Israel.

The New York Times on Friday named four defendants from Brooklyn: Yaakov Weingarten, 52, and his wife Rivka, 52; and two of his employees: Simon Weiss, 28, and David Yifat, 66.

Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general, said the four “brazenly abused the generosity of the public” by using more than $2.5 million raised in donations for personal expenses from 2007 to 2013.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the defendants in the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the Times reported. Weingarten’s lawyer, Sheldon Eisenberger, did not respond to a message left by the Times with his receptionist.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants collected money for 19 charities they were running. The charities had buzzwords in their names intended to appeal to Jews eager to help Israel, the Times reported.

Only a small amount of the donated money actually wound up in Israel, the Times reported. The defendants bounced at least 2,100 checks and wasted $65,000 of charitable donations in overdraft fees, Schneiderman charged. The lawsuit asked the court to close some charities managed by the defendants; it did not immediately address the issue of repayment.

Schneiderman said the defendants spent the money on home mortgages, the remodeling of a second home, car loans, dentist visits, video rentals and a trip to the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, among other expenses.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of “preying on a vulnerable public’s charitable instincts, and in particular the charitable impulses that many persons of the Jewish faith have for Israel.”

Among the organizations named in the lawsuit are Bnei Torah, Magen Israel and the Israel Leukemia and Cancer Society. Only two of the 19 entities were even registered in Israel, Schneiderman said. The solicitations also used “doctored photographs” of workers and equipment belonging to actual Israeli emergency organizations, the complaint said.

Schneiderman’s office would not say whether criminal charges were also forthcoming.

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