The Re-appointment of Zvi Hirsch Telsner and the Insensitivity to Sexual Abuse Victims and Families Apparent

PLEASE VIEW THE BLOG OF MANNY WAKS: http://www.mannywaks.com/

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Remarkably Un-Jewish – Haredim Vandalizing Reform Synagogues and Murdering Reform Leaders

 

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Haredi Orthodox man indicted in Israel for death threats against Reform leaders

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A man from the haredi Orthodox town of Bnei Brak was indicted for making death threats against leaders of the Reform movement and vandalizing a Reform synagogue.

The man, whose name has not been made public, was arrested last month and prosecutors asked that he be held in custody until the end of his trial. He was indicted Monday on charges of extortion, threats, vandalism and intent to commit arson.

He allegedly also targeted the left-wing Breaking the Silence organization and threatened well-known atheists in Israel.

The incidents date back to 2014.

In November 2016, hate graffiti was painted on the walls of the Kehilat Ra’anan Reform synagogue in Raanana and death threats left in envelopes held down by a knife addressed to prominent Reform leaders were left at its doorstep.

The phrase “The divine presence will never leave the Western Wall,” was spray-painted on the building, as well biblical references “Ovadia 18 and 21,” and “Psalms 139:21-22.” The Ovadia citation deals with the destruction of Israel’s enemies at the hand of a vengeful God. The Psalms citation states of enemies of God, “I hate them with utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.”

The letters were addressed to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism; and Anat Hoffman, chair of Women of the Wall and the head of the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel. The threats came days after a protest for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall led by the Reform leaders.

It was the second time the Raanana synagogue had been vandalized. Similar graffiti has been painted on the walls of the synagogue in January 2016, though no death threats had been issued. The threats included arson against the synagogue.

The man also left threatening letters held down by knives and graffiti outside of the homes of Israeli atheists, and had information on activists for Breaking the Silence in order to leave similar messages. He reportedly also had purchased gasoline and other equipment in order to burn down the headquarters of Breaking the Silence.

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Following Platinum Partners – Links for Receivership

MELANIE L. CYGANOWSKI, RECEIVER c/o Otterbourg P.C. 230 Park Avenue, 30th Floor New York, NY 10169 E-mail: platinumreceiver@otterbourg.com Website: www.PlatinumReceivership.com

August 17, 2017

VIA WEB POSTING

Re:
Securities & Exchange Commission v. Platinum Management (NY) LLC, et al.
United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
Case No.: 1:16-cv-06848-DLI-VMS

Dear Investors:

I am writing to you as the newly-appointed receiver of Platinum Credit Management, L.P.; Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Master Fund LP; Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Fund (TE) LLC; Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Fund LLC; Platinum Partners Credit Opportunity Fund (BL) LLC; Platinum Liquid Opportunity Management (NY) LLC; and Platinum Partners Liquid Opportunity Fund (USA) L.P. (collectively, the “Receivership Entities” or “Platinum”) (collectively, “Platinum”). As Receiver, I am charged with, among other things, (i) taking control of and managing Platinum’s property and records (the “Receivership Assets”), (ii) taking actions as necessary and appropriate to preserve Receivership property, and (iii) taking actions as necessary and appropriate for the orderly liquidation of the Receivership Assets. The purpose of this letter is to advise you of the initial progress since my appointment and to explain how I intend to respond to your inquiries.

On June 23, 2017, the prior receiver, Bart M. Schwartz, resigned. As a result, by Order dated July 6, 2017, the Court appointed me as Receiver for the Receivership Entities. On July 21, 2017, the Court approved the retention of Otterbourg, P.C. as my legal counsel and Goldin Associates LLC as my financial advisor (collectively, the “Receivership Team”). Unless specifically modified, all previous court orders remain in place. A Second Amended Order Appointing Receiver, which sets forth the rights and responsibilities of the Receiver is expected to be entered in the near term. All documents, including a copy of the original Complaint for Injunctive and Other Relief against Platinum and its principals, Mark Nordlicht, David Levy, Daniel Small, Uri Landesman, Joseph Mann, Joseph Sanfilippo, and Jeffrey Shulse, filed by the Securities & Exchange Commission (“SEC”), Temporary Restraining Order, and Order Appointing Receiver can be viewed on this website.

Upon my appointment, the Receivership Team took immediate steps to secure and take control over Platinum’s accounts and books and records and implement cash management procedures. I also implemented procedures for the review and approval of all expenditures. The Receivership Team has prepared a 13-Week Cash Receipts and Disbursements Forecast, performed weekly actual vs. forecasted variance analyses, and is conducting daily and weekly reconciliations of Platinum’s cash and brokerage accounts.

The opening investment portfolio consisted of 90 investments in 69 entities. The assets of the Receivership Entities are diverse, but generally fall into three main asset categories: (i) life settlement investments (e.g., investments in life insurance policies), (ii) litigation finance investments, and (iii) “other” assets, which are primarily concentrated in the metals and mining and energy sectors, in companies that are mostly in the developmental stages. The nature of the Receivership Entities’ investments in the “other” assets varies. The Receivership Team is undertaking a thorough financial and legal analysis of the Receivership Entities’ position(s) in each investment, the rights of the Receivership Entity in the capital structure and pursuant to the operative documents, assessing the maintenance costs of the asset, and options available to the Receiver with respect to the monetization of the investment.

During the short time that I have been in control of the Receivership Assets, certain investments totaling approximately $8.6 million have been liquidated or are on the verge of liquidation. None of these assets has been liquidated in “fire sale” fashion. Indeed, one of them was monetized at par value. I believe that the life settlement and certain of the litigation finance investments are liquid and that there may be additional funds realized from their liquidation in the next several months.

As a general matter, however, I have not found support for the values reflected on Platinum’s books or for certain early indications of value in the Receivership. I look forward to working with Houlihan Lokey Financial Advisors, Inc., which I have retained to provide valuation services, and developing supportable valuation assessments.

I will report on our efforts by filing periodic reports with the Court. The reports will also be posted to this website set forth above. The most recent report: My Initial Status Report to the Court, which was filed on August 10, 2017, provides a more detailed review of the actions taken since my appointment and can be found on this website.

You can send general email inquiries to platinumreceiver@otterbourg.com. Although my staff and I will review all emails we receive, it is not practical for us to respond personally to all messages, not least because it would consume a significant amount of time. Accordingly, we will update the Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQ”)section on this website as needed to reflect your inquiries and our responses.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation and understanding.

Sincerely,

Melanie L. Cyganowski
Receiver

Case Information

RECEIVERSHIP ENTITIES
Platinum Credit Management, L.P.
Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Master Fund LP
Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Fund (TE) LLC
Platinum Partners Credit Opportunities Fund LLC
Platinum Partners Credit Opportunity Fund (BL) LLC
Platinum Liquid Opportunity Management (NY) LLC
Platinum Partners Liquid Opportunity Fund (USA) L.P.

CASE NUMBER
1:16-cv-6848 (DLI)(VMS)

COURT
United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York

JUDGE
Chief Judge Dora Lizette Irizarry

DATE FILED
December 19, 2016

LEGAL COUNSEL TO RECEIVER
Otterbourg P.C.
230 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10169
Phone: 212-661-9100
Fax: 212-682-6104
Attention: Adam C. Silverstein
Erik B. Weinick

FINANCIAL ADVISOR TO RECEIVER
Goldin Associates LLC
350 Fifth Avenue
The Empire State Building
New York, NY 10118
Phone: 212.593.2255
Fax: 212.888.2841
Attention: Marc Kirschner
William Edwards

RELATED CASES
1:16-cr-00640-DLI USA v. Nordlicht et al
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-1 Mark Nordlicht
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-2 David Levy
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-3 Uri Landesman
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-4 Joseph Sanfilippo
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-5 Joseph Mann
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-6 Daniel Small
1:16-cr-00640-DLI-7 Jeffrey Shulse

Docket Items for the above cases can be located at the PACER portal for the Eastern District of New York, located here.

The Wholesale Takeover of Rockland County, New York – With the Assistance of Aggressive Real Estate Brokers

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From the Rockland Times: http://www.rocklandtimes.com/2017/02/15/real-estate-firm-accused-of-blockbusting-targets-stony-pt/

REAL ESTATE FIRM ACCUSED OF BLOCKBUSTING TARGETS STONY PT

Naomi Streicher of Realty Teams Pomona has bombarded the Stony Point market the past few weeks with her trademark aggressive campaign encouraging homeowners to sell their properties.

Among her strategies is sending letters to local homeowners listing all properties recently sold in the town. Streicher plays the role of matchmaker of sorts, linking potential buyers with potential sellers.

While Streicher has defended her marketing methods and says Realty Teams “does things right,” critics have accused her team of using high pressure tactics similar to “blockbusting.” The term blockbusting refers to efforts to cause a flight of homeowners from an area, often leading to a drop in property value. A new group scoops up the cheaper real estate and establishes dominance in the area.

The term has come into use in Rockland County due to the success Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities have had in buying up and dominating entire neighborhoods. A prelude to such demographic changes typically include aggressive real estate practices, such as random persons knocking on doors and offering cash to homeowners. 

While such cash offers and strategic targeting of communities have long been commonplace in Rockland, in 2016 Chestnut Ridge residents reported the offers were so persistent and the proprietors so aggressive that it had become more than a nuisance. Residents felt their quality of life deeply impacted by the tactics.

As a result laws were passed in some Rockland localities limiting the methods real estate propietors may use. No knock laws were passed and overall awareness raised.

As Streicher has made her presence felt in Stony Point the past few weeks, some residents have taken to social media to warn fellow town residents of possible blockbusting efforts commencing in Rockland’s smallest and northernmost town.

Streicher maintains her work is innocent, merely connecting buyers and sellers. Her critics say she is one of the most notorious blockbusters around.

She has maintained in the past that those who do not want to be contacted by her can simply reach out and let her know. Streicher’s office phone is 845-364-0007.

If you encounter Streicher tell the Rockland County Times how you feel about the experience. We can be reached at editor@rocklandcountytimes.com

Note– Following the publication of this article in the RCT print edition, two residents from Garnerville reported the agency in question had launched an aggressive sales push in their neighborhood.

Ultra-Orthodox Community is Expanding, Blockbusting, Lakewood, Jersey City

Photo

A woman and boy in the Greenville neighborhood in Jersey City, where several dozen Hasidic families from Brooklyn have settled. They are part of a major movement of ultra-Orthodox Jews into communities around New York City in search of more affordable places to live.CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

JERSEY CITY — To the gentrifying stew of bankers, artists and college graduates who are transforming this once blue-collar city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, add an unexpected flavor.

In a heavily African-American neighborhood, 62 families from a number of Hasidic sects based in Brooklyn and rarely seen here have bought a scattering of faded but roomy wood-frame rowhouses whose prices are less than half what homes of similar size would cost in New York — roughly $300,000 compared with $800,000.

These families are pioneers in a demographic and religious shift that is reshaping communities throughout the region. Skyrocketing real estate prices in Brooklyn and Queens are forcing out young ultra-Orthodox families, which are establishing outposts in unexpected places, like Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, the Willowbrook neighborhood on Staten Island and in Bloomingburg, N.Y., in the foothills of the Catskills.

The influx, however, has provoked tensions with long-established residents, as the ultra-Orthodox seek to establish a larger footprint for their surging population. Residents complain that investors or real estate agents representing the ultra-Orthodox community have been ringing doorbells persistently, offering to buy properties at “Brooklyn prices.” Jersey City, Toms River and Jackson have all passed no-knock ordinances barring such inquiries under the threat of fines or have banned solicitations altogether.

The mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, said his town took pride in its diversity but had been concerned about “very aggressive solicitation.”

“They literally go door to door and can be very pushy trying to purchase someone’s house,” Mr. Fulop, a grandson of Holocaust survivors and a graduate of yeshivas, said in an interview. “It’s not the best way to endear yourself to the community, and there’s been a lot of pushback.”

Photo

In Jersey City, a Hasidic influx has provoked some tension among longtime residents who complain of aggressive tactics from buyers seeking to purchase homes for Hasidic families. The city now prohibits door-to-door solicitation. CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

New York City and the surrounding suburbs are home to the largest concentration of Jews in the country and because of their high birthrate — five or six children are common — Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews represent the fastest-growing subset. They are now estimated to number about 330,000 in New York City alone — one-third of the city’s overall Jewish population.

They have become a more muscular political and social force and have turned the generally liberal profile of the area’s Jews more observant and conservative. Lakewood Township, near the Jersey Shore, voted for Donald J. Trump last year by the largest margin — 50 percentage points over Hillary Clinton — of any New Jersey community, according to an analysis by NJ Advance Media.

Squeezed out of their traditional neighborhoods, ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken steps that have raised concerns as they settle into new communities.

Michele Massey, a former Jersey City councilwoman who is the executive director of an organization that oversees a commercial corridor along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, said Hasidim had opened a synagogue on the avenue despite a recent zoning change forbidding new houses of worship.

“It’s not because they’re Jewish,” Ms. Massey said of her opposition. “It could have been any other religion or group. It was simply the zoning law. I’m a person of color. Obviously I don’t care who lives where.”

The Hasidim contend that they have been primarily buying boarded-up or vacant homes and that solicitations have come from outside investors, not from the families that have moved in. They support the city’s no-knock law and point out that the Hasidic families that have moved into the Greenville neighborhood are a minuscule fraction of the area’s 47,000 people, half of whom are black.

“We’re not looking to push out anybody,” said Mordecha Feuerstein, a volunteer for a Hasidic organization that helps people find new homes in affordable places like Jersey City.

What Hasidim have opened in a boarded-up dry cleaner on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, he said, is not a synagogue but a small community center that, like many Jewish institutional buildings, is also used for prayer and study. Next to it is a narrow grocery stocked with kosher foods and Yiddish newspapers. Some Hasidim point out that within a few blocks along the avenue are a Catholic church, a mosque and a storefront church called the Sanctified Church of Jesus Christ. Those were grandfathered in under zoning rules and officials are weighing whether the community center violates the rules.

Underlying the objections of many municipalities is an often unspoken worry that ultra-Orthodox Jews will transform the character of their communities. The ultra-Orthodox may not explicitly raise the specter of anti-Semitism, but they do see a bias against their unconventional lifestyle, modest dress and customs. Orthodox Jews, in general, live in tight-knit communities because of their need to cluster around an infrastructure that includes a synagogue within walking distance, kosher butchers, yeshivas for boys and girls, and ritual baths.

One community that is rapidly changing is Bloomingburg, on the edge of Sullivan County. A developer, Shalom Lamm, started building a complex of 396 townhouses that he marketed to Hasidim. Opponents claimed the development would quadruple the village’s population of 420 and significantly alter its tranquil, rustic ambience. Thirty homes are occupied and another 70 or so are in various stages of building. Vacant homes nearby have been bought for Hasidic tenants, while a boys’ yeshiva, a ritual bath and a kosher store have opened.

What the village will look like is in limbo, however, because Mr. Lammpleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process by signing up ineligible voters to elect a village government friendly to his project. He will face sentencing in September.

Lakewood is also feeling the impact of a fast-growing minority group. Decades ago the area was rural, filled with hardscrabble egg-raising farms owned by Jewish Holocaust refugees, a few grand hotels and an estate that had once been owned by John D. Rockefeller.

TO CONTINUE TO THE NEW YORK TIMES STORY, CLICK HERE.

Lakewood’s Civic Leaders, Negotiating Better Treatment – Amnesty for the Orthodox

From the Asbury Park Press:

Lakewood fraud: Vaad met with N.J. officials before amnesty deal

LAKEWOOD – Jewish Orthodox civic leaders had exclusive access to state officials during the planning of a controversial county-wide Medicaid fraud amnesty offer — a program critics say caters to Lakewood’s Orthodox community, the Asbury Park Press has learned.

State officials on Thursday said the only community group they met with as they formed the amnesty program was the Vaad, Lakewood’s politically influential council of local Orthodox Jewish religious and business leaders. Local African American and Latino groups told the Asbury Park Press that they were not asked for their views on amnesty.

The meeting’s disclosure comes as criticism has intensified about the amnesty program that was launched after 26 in Lakewood were charged in June and July in a public assistance fraud sweep.

The defendants — accused of taking more than a combined $2 million in public assistance they weren’t entitled to — include a rabbi and his brother, business owners, students and housewives from the township’s religious enclave.

After plans were announced to rent out the 3,200-seat Pine Belt Arena in Toms River to hold an amnesty “informational” program, the Vaad publicly endorsed the program.

But fewer than 40 people showed up for that Sept. 12 session, and State Comptroller Philip Degnan, who is overseeing the program, demurred when asked by an attendee if he had “reached out to rabbis” for their support.

“We have reached out to a number of community groups. We have had meetings with a number of community groups. I’m not going to talk about which ones,” Degnan replied.

More: New APP columnist: Why not use Medicaid amnesty for immigration?

More: Lakewood Medicaid cheats stay home; amnesty meeting attracts few

More: Lakewood fraud arrests spur amnesty program for Medicaid cheats

More: Lakewood schools looking to reduce special ed litigation spending

On Thursday, Degnan in an emailed statement said his office’s Medicaid Fraud Division “was solely responsible for conceiving of and developing what has become the Ocean County Medicaid Recipient Voluntary Disclosure Pilot Program.”

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Degnan said officials met with the Vaad and also had meetings with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Board of Social Services, and representatives of other prosecutor’s offices and law enforcement agencies.

No religious restrictions

The Medicaid amnesty reprieve doesn’t have race or religious restrictions but is only open to residents of Ocean County.

Leaders of non-Orthodox groups in Lakewood say the amnesty opportunity came as a surprise to them.

“Nothing to us at all. No one reached out,” said Alejandra Morales, president of La Voz Latina, which supports immigrant rights.

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Pastor Glenn Wilson, whose church in Howell has a congregation of largely black and Latino worshipers who come from neighboring Lakewood, said state officials didn’t contact him nor church members – and he called the amnesty “a slap in the face to all people of all groups.”

Wilson also heads Lakewood UNITE (United Neighbors Improving Today’s Equality), a group that advocates for the township’s public school students.

“Amnesty is something you give to people who don’t know they were making a mistake. I have the same sense that the general public has that Medicaid fraud is probably not often done by mistake,” he said. “I know of people who were denied services for programs just by being over an income limit by a few dollars. The rules weren’t bent for them or by them.”

Degnan in his statement said his office “is willing to attend informational meetings with interested community groups in Ocean County at any time during the 90-day program.”

Vaad leaders in an emailed statement didn’t address questions about the group’s role in planning.

“The program continues to have the Vaad’s support as another tool to encourage greater compliance with the program’s rules,” said Vaad spokesman Rabbi Moshe Weisberg.

State officials concede it’s the first time such an undertaking has been targeted to a specific area.

“We’ve offered this program because, based on our Medicaid fraud investigations in Ocean County, we believe there may be a larger problem in that county,” said Degnan, a 2015 appointee of Gov. Chris Christie. “This is an opportunity to bring a significant number of people into compliance. That’s our goal.”

“We have not seen it in any other state,” he said. “As far as we know, it’s a fairly unique program.”

Degnan’s office audits government finances, programs and contracts and has a Medicaid Fraud Division.

‘We would be hung’

Lakewood resident Mami Quinonez, 61, is among critics who say the program selectively gives a pass to Orthodox Jews at a time when New Jersey has the nation’s highest racial disparity in incarceration rates.

Quinonez, 61, a native of Puerto Rico who describes herself as a “community activist,” said allowing others in the township who’ve wrongly received Medicaid benefits to avoid criminal charges is being done “because there are so many of them and their votes give them influence.”

“If an Afro-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican or Caucasian did what they did, we would be hung,” Quinonez said. “We would have went straight to the federal prison.”

Lakewood’s population topped 100,000 in the most recent U.S. Census estimate and Orthodox residents now account for more than half of that figure, community leaders say, though no official statistics are available.

The offer runs until Dec. 12. Degnan said it’s a “pilot program” and that it could be available in other counties in the future.

Last week the Root online magazine — a popular black news and culture site — posted a story titled: “White People Commit Welfare Fraud, State Creates Amnesty Program so They Won’t Go to Jail.”

Author Monique Judge wrote, “Religious leaders in the town support the program because it will let participants avoid prosecution. … Will this happen in a predominantly black town in New Jersey as well, or nah? Asking for black people everywhere.”

The Forward, another online site that says it offers “news that matters to American Jews,” also weighed in with a story titled, “Lakewood Medicaid Fraudsters Get Amnesty – Proving Jews Are On The White Side Of The Law.

Author Helen Leshinsky wrote that reactions to the program on social media “seemed to come in three categories. There were those who decried the program on ‘Law and Order’ grounds, claiming all criminals should be charged. Then there was the downright anti-Semitic response, clamoring that Jews are getting preferential treatment.

“Finally, there was the double standard argument coming from people of color, to whom the law has never been this lenient and humane. The first two can be dismissed, but the latter cannot be ignored.”

Blacks make up about 15 percent of New Jersey’s population but more than 60 percent of the state’s prison population, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

There were 3,803 arrests for fraud in New Jersey in 2015 — the latest year available from the State Police Uniform Crime Report — with 55 percent of persons arrested white, 42 percent black, and 3 percent other races. The Hispanic ethnic origin accounted for 20 percent of the arrests.

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More: Lakewood development: Residents’ complaints delay master plan vote

Residents of Newark, Camden, Paterson and other cities “where the racial makeup of the populations are very different” could use a similar boost with “not amnesty, but stepped-up state support for things like prisoner reentry programs and transition shelters,” said Fred Rush, president of Ocean County’s NAACP chapter.

“In the cities where you have a different racial makeup, they might have gun buyback programs, but those are open to anybody,” Rush said. “To be honest, when I heard there was Medicaid fraud amnesty for Ocean County, I thought it was a scam. Why would they do that? And why does it seem it’s geared to one religion?”

Self-reporting vs. court cases

NJ FamilyCare, a Medicaid insurance program funded by both federal and state dollars, covers children 18 and under who have no other insurance in families with incomes up to 355 percent of the federal poverty level – as an example, in a family of four the income limit would be $87,336 year, but the income limit for parents to qualify is $33,948.

Degnan said having public assistance cheaters self-report makes more sense than pursuing court cases, which can tap the government’s limited manpower for investigations.

The amnesty terms of settlements call for full restitution payments, plus additional penalties, and voluntary withdrawal from Medicaid for a one-year period. After the amnesty offer expires Dec. 12, prosecutions will resume as needed, Degnan said.

The Office of the State Comptroller’s Medicaid Fraud Division says it opened 407 cases for investigation and made 32 referrals to law enforcement agencies last year. The division also said it received 1,962 telephone fraud hotline tips.

Degnan noted that prosecuting public assistance cheats doesn’t typically result in jail time. First-time offenders in many instances are offered pre-trial intervention, a probationary program that results in dismissal of charges upon completion, he said.

On Sept. 12, at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, an information session on how to apply for amnesty attracted only about three dozen people. Degnan spokesman Jeffrey Lamm said applications to the program can be submitted online, but information about the number of applicants won’t be available until the program is over in December.

LAKEWOOD – Jewish Orthodox civic leaders had exclusive access to state officials during the planning of a controversial county-wide Medicaid fraud amnesty offer — a program critics say caters to Lakewood’s Orthodox community, the Asbury Park Press has learned.

State officials on Thursday said the only community group they met with as they formed the amnesty program was the Vaad, Lakewood’s politically influential council of local Orthodox Jewish religious and business leaders. Local African American and Latino groups told the Asbury Park Press that they were not asked for their views on amnesty.

The meeting’s disclosure comes as criticism has intensified about the amnesty program that was launched after 26 in Lakewood were charged in June and July in a public assistance fraud sweep.

The defendants — accused of taking more than a combined $2 million in public assistance they weren’t entitled to — include a rabbi and his brother, business owners, students and housewives from the township’s religious enclave.

After plans were announced to rent out the 3,200-seat Pine Belt Arena in Toms River to hold an amnesty “informational” program, the Vaad publicly endorsed the program.

But fewer than 40 people showed up for that Sept. 12 session, and State Comptroller Philip Degnan, who is overseeing the program, demurred when asked by an attendee if he had “reached out to rabbis” for their support.

“We have reached out to a number of community groups. We have had meetings with a number of community groups. I’m not going to talk about which ones,” Degnan replied.

On Thursday, Degnan in an emailed statement said his office’s Medicaid Fraud Division “was solely responsible for conceiving of and developing what has become the Ocean County Medicaid Recipient Voluntary Disclosure Pilot Program.”

Degnan said officials met with the Vaad and also had meetings with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Board of Social Services, and representatives of other prosecutor’s offices and law enforcement agencies.

No religious restrictions

The Medicaid amnesty reprieve doesn’t have race or religious restrictions but is only open to residents of Ocean County.

Leaders of non-Orthodox groups in Lakewood say the amnesty opportunity came as a surprise to them.

“Nothing to us at all. No one reached out,” said Alejandra Morales, president of La Voz Latina, which supports immigrant rights.

Pastor Glenn Wilson, whose church in Howell has a congregation of largely black and Latino worshipers who come from neighboring Lakewood, said state officials didn’t contact him nor church members – and he called the amnesty “a slap in the face to all people of all groups.”

Wilson also heads Lakewood UNITE (United Neighbors Improving Today’s Equality), a group that advocates for the township’s public school students.

“Amnesty is something you give to people who don’t know they were making a mistake. I have the same sense that the general public has that Medicaid fraud is probably not often done by mistake,” he said. “I know of people who were denied services for programs just by being over an income limit by a few dollars. The rules weren’t bent for them or by them.”

Degnan in his statement said his office “is willing to attend informational meetings with interested community groups in Ocean County at any time during the 90-day program.”

Vaad leaders in an emailed statement didn’t address questions about the group’s role in planning.

“The program continues to have the Vaad’s support as another tool to encourage greater compliance with the program’s rules,” said Vaad spokesman Rabbi Moshe Weisberg.

State officials concede it’s the first time such an undertaking has been targeted to a specific area.

“We’ve offered this program because, based on our Medicaid fraud investigations in Ocean County, we believe there may be a larger problem in that county,” said Degnan, a 2015 appointee of Gov. Chris Christie. “This is an opportunity to bring a significant number of people into compliance. That’s our goal.”

“We have not seen it in any other state,” he said. “As far as we know, it’s a fairly unique program.”

Degnan’s office audits government finances, programs and contracts and has a Medicaid Fraud Division.

‘We would be hung’

Lakewood resident Mami Quinonez, 61, is among critics who say the program selectively gives a pass to Orthodox Jews at a time when New Jersey has the nation’s highest racial disparity in incarceration rates.

Quinonez, 61, a native of Puerto Rico who describes herself as a “community activist,” said allowing others in the township who’ve wrongly received Medicaid benefits to avoid criminal charges is being done “because there are so many of them and their votes give them influence.”

“If an Afro-American, Puerto Rican, Mexican or Caucasian did what they did, we would be hung,” Quinonez said. “We would have went straight to the federal prison.”

Lakewood’s population topped 100,000 in the most recent U.S. Census estimate and Orthodox residents now account for more than half of that figure, community leaders say, though no official statistics are available.

The offer runs until Dec. 12. Degnan said it’s a “pilot program” and that it could be available in other counties in the future.

Last week the Root online magazine — a popular black news and culture site — posted a story titled: “White People Commit Welfare Fraud, State Creates Amnesty Program so They Won’t Go to Jail.”

Author Monique Judge wrote, “Religious leaders in the town support the program because it will let participants avoid prosecution. … Will this happen in a predominantly black town in New Jersey as well, or nah? Asking for black people everywhere.”

The Forward, another online site that says it offers “news that matters to American Jews,” also weighed in with a story titled, “Lakewood Medicaid Fraudsters Get Amnesty – Proving Jews Are On The White Side Of The Law.

Author Helen Leshinsky wrote that reactions to the program on social media “seemed to come in three categories. There were those who decried the program on ‘Law and Order’ grounds, claiming all criminals should be charged. Then there was the downright anti-Semitic response, clamoring that Jews are getting preferential treatment.

“Finally, there was the double standard argument coming from people of color, to whom the law has never been this lenient and humane. The first two can be dismissed, but the latter cannot be ignored.”

Blacks make up about 15 percent of New Jersey’s population but more than 60 percent of the state’s prison population, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

There were 3,803 arrests for fraud in New Jersey in 2015 — the latest year available from the State Police Uniform Crime Report — with 55 percent of persons arrested white, 42 percent black, and 3 percent other races. The Hispanic ethnic origin accounted for 20 percent of the arrests.

Residents of Newark, Camden, Paterson and other cities “where the racial makeup of the populations are very different” could use a similar boost with “not amnesty, but stepped-up state support for things like prisoner reentry programs and transition shelters,” said Fred Rush, president of Ocean County’s NAACP chapter.

“In the cities where you have a different racial makeup, they might have gun buyback programs, but those are open to anybody,” Rush said. “To be honest, when I heard there was Medicaid fraud amnesty for Ocean County, I thought it was a scam. Why would they do that? And why does it seem it’s geared to one religion?”

Self-reporting vs. court cases

NJ FamilyCare, a Medicaid insurance program funded by both federal and state dollars, covers children 18 and under who have no other insurance in families with incomes up to 355 percent of the federal poverty level – as an example, in a family of four the income limit would be $87,336 year, but the income limit for parents to qualify is $33,948.

Degnan said having public assistance cheaters self-report makes more sense than pursuing court cases, which can tap the government’s limited manpower for investigations.

The amnesty terms of settlements call for full restitution payments, plus additional penalties, and voluntary withdrawal from Medicaid for a one-year period. After the amnesty offer expires Dec. 12, prosecutions will resume as needed, Degnan said.

The Office of the State Comptroller’s Medicaid Fraud Division says it opened 407 cases for investigation and made 32 referrals to law enforcement agencies last year. The division also said it received 1,962 telephone fraud hotline tips.

Degnan noted that prosecuting public assistance cheats doesn’t typically result in jail time. First-time offenders in many instances are offered pre-trial intervention, a probationary program that results in dismissal of charges upon completion, he said.

On Sept. 12, at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, an information session on how to apply for amnesty attracted only about three dozen people. Degnan spokesman Jeffrey Lamm said applications to the program can be submitted online, but information about the number of applicants won’t be available until the program is over in December.

Israeli Soldiers Clashing with the Ultra-Orthodox – Casting the First Stone?

Israeli soldiers violently clash with ultra-Orthodox

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with Israeli police Sunday when an anti-military demonstration grew violent.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit group were protesting a recent court ruling that compels them to serve in the Israeli Defense Force. They began to block traffic and resisted riot cops’ efforts to disperse them, according to officials.

“Eight rioters who used violence against police were arrested,” a police statement said in Hebrew, according to The Associated Press. “They lay down in the road, shouting slogans against the police, some of them threw stones at police.”

The court decision, reached last week, struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men from military service if they are engaged in religious study.

Typically, men over 18 must serve two years and eight months in the IDF, and adult women must serve two years.

Religious hardliners argue Judaism forbids a Jewish state — and thus a military — under certain conditions. Others claim that time in the service will expose men to colorful language and detract from their religious studies.