(JTA) — Many high-profile Jewish leaders called on New York’s attorney general to go easy on William Rapfogel, the former chief of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, who stole $9 million from the charity, according to a new report.
The Rapfogel backers included 19 rabbis, several politicians, and some of the most prominent Jewish leaders in New York City and the country, according to the investigative report posted Sunday on the City & State website, which reports on government and politics in New York.
The letters, which were received in Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office shortly before Rapfogel pleaded guilty in April, were obtained by City & State under the Freedom of Information Act. Some were slightly redacted by the attorney general’s office.
A Schneiderman spokeswoman told City & State that the letters “had no impact” on Rapfogel’s sentencing because “it was clear from the substance of the letters” that Rapfogel had “concealed the full extent of his misconduct from the letter writers.”
Rapfogel was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison for his role in the two-decades-long insurance kickback scheme and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution, the amount he personally stole to “fund a lavish lifestyle,” the attorney general said at the time of the sentencing.
The Met Council, which provides services to the poor and elderly in the New York City area and receives funding from state and city government as well as from private sources, has been struggling in the aftermath of the scandal and announced last month that it was looking to merge or partner with other organizations on various projects but also might close altogether.
Among the letter writers in support of Rapfogel, according to City & State, were national leaders such as Julius Berman, the chair of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and former president of JTA; Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division; Shmuel Lefkowitz, the chief lobbyist for Agudath Israel of America; Howard Friedman, a former AIPAC president; Richard Stone, ex-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference; Rabbi Moishe Rabinovich, leader of the Munkatch Hasidim sect; Ruth Lichtenstein, publisher of the Orthodox newspaper Hamodia; Raphael Butler, former president of the Orthodox Union; and Steven Weil, senior managing director of the Orthodox Union.
Supporters who are well known in the New York area include Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, president of the New York Board of Rabbis; Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council; David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn; Assemblyman Dov Hikind; CUNY trustee Jeff Wiesenfeld; Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun; and developer Bruce Ratner.
Much of the $3 million that Rapfogel paid in restitution was raised by his supporters, according to the article, though it is not known who the contributors were, how the money was collected or what percent of the $3 million was donated.