Mark Nordlicht, Westchester Torah Academy – Hogwarts and Platinum’s Magical Missing Money

 

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The Mark Nordlicht Connection… Following the Money?

Mark Nordlicht was the founder of an organization called the “Affordable Jewish Education Project” (www.ajeproject.com).  The address for the AJE Project was the New York address for Platinum Partners, same address and same floor. There is no mistaking that they are one in the same. Platinum owns the entire floor.
Yet, interestingly,  all mention of Nordlicht has been removed from the AJE website; and two days ago we were able to find a previous archive page from an earlier capture of the site with Nordlicht’s name on it. As of today, we cannot.
In fact, a glance at the website of the AJE Project makes it look like all but a legitimate organization. That is, with the exception of Nordlicht’s now absent involvement.
Westchester Torah Academy, however, is a link that has not yet been broken.

Mark Nordlicht is a board member of the Westchester Torah Academy in New Rochelle and is still listed as such on the website, or he was. Today the website appears to have been hacked. We asked people from around the world to try and no one could find the donors’ page.

Mark Nordlicht personally gave $1 Million to the school directly (as evidenced by the donors page on the WTA website – well, it was).

Thankfully, his wife is so supportive of the school on her Facebook page:

sharesfromfb

 

Mark Nordlicht also is part of an organization called Friends of Westchester Torah Academy. Nordlicht gave substantial money to the school through that organization too.

This is public record.

 

Westchester Torah Academy recently bought land (8.5 acres) in New Rochelle for a new campus.

However, a review of the various meetings related to that purchase, the zoning for the expansion, traffic, storm drains, etc reveals some seemingly unusual activity on behalf of the planning board regarding their application.

The May 24th Planning Board Meeting 32 minutes into video

The June 28th Planning Board Meeting 30:33 minutes into video

No public comments were permitted at the second meeting, despite an acknowledgement that there were significant comments. The person who spoke on behalf of the school was an attorney and the second meeting was apparently a response to the first, and included traffic studies, storm-water plans, revised landscaping plans, and a newly submitted and revised architectural drawing. The traffic studies contained some relatively far-reaching forecasts but there was no public comment allowed.
WTA has since managed to make wetlands disappear.
wta-drawings
What we found most significant was that the full capacity of the school is 440 students, not anticipated to be reached until 2029.
Why they needed to increase the size of the school so significantly at this time remains a mystery to us.
READ MORE: 2015

Westchester Torah Academy Announces Expansion: ‘Hogwarts’ Acquisition

Westchester Torah Academy, the Jewish school with a unique blended learning program, will be moving to a new magical location in the heart of New Rochelle. Earlier this month, WTA’s head of school, Rabbi Rami Strosberg, and Board Chair, Kevin Shacknofsky, jointly announced that WTA had purchased a brand new 8.5 acre campus as its permanent home.

When WTA was established three years ago, the board set up an arrangement to utilize the classrooms in Temple Israel of New Rochelle’s school building. Classrooms were erected for a Torah education and to support the blended learning model, but the board and administration expected it only to be a “temporary place to incubate this program,” Rabbi Strosberg said. “We discovered how immediately successful this endeavor was, with enrollment growth over the past three years far exceeding anyone’s wildest expectations.” As such, with such sizable growth–in the last year alone, enrollment increased 74 percent–a new campus search went under way almost immediately.

Initially, WTA thought they were going to remain and grow at the Temple Israel location, building upon the facilities available to them to create a successful program that would scale with enrollment growth. However, the flexibility to grow at the TI property was limited. Therefore, for nearly two years, the WTA board had their eye on St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, located off Stratton Road in New Rochelle. Conversations ensued, including correspondence with Rabbi Reuven Fink of the Young Israel of New Rochelle and Rabbi Baruch Simon at YU to ensure that the school’s growth followed halachic guidelines, in that the school was being moved into a religious non-Jewish establishment. Negotiations continued until the sale was finalized earlier this fall. In an ironic twist, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, the only Armenian Seminary in the Western World, relocated to Armonk, NY, building on property purchased from a Jewish synagogue, Congregation B’nai Yisrael.

There is a lot of growth potential for the new facility. Not only is it centrally located to main hubs of Jewish life in Westchester and Riverdale (it is 20 minutes away from Riverdale, its furthest point, 10 minutes from White Plains and five minutes from New Rochelle and Scarsdale), “it is zoned as a school, and it is not easy to find properties like that,” Shacknofsky said. A committee of parents to help shape the future of the school building, is currently being formed. Dedicated classrooms as well as offices for the administration are planned. The objective will always be mindful of the WTA mission, in creating “purpose-filled classrooms to implement the rotational blended learning model,” Shacknofsky said. Rabbi Strosberg agreed, “What’s exciting about this is we can be mindful of our mission as we lay the foundation. The space is going to be not just rooms but centers of learning. We can think of how to use the building for the best focus and to maximize a child’s ability to explore and reach academic and spiritual heights.”

In staying true to the idea of adhering to the affordable education movement, WTA is also assuring parents that its current building fund campaign is voluntary and will not be passed on in tuition fees. With generous contributions from prominent members of the community and the Affordable Jewish Education Foundation, the school’s permanent foundation has come to fruition.

 

To read the full article click here.

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11 thoughts on “Mark Nordlicht, Westchester Torah Academy – Hogwarts and Platinum’s Magical Missing Money

  1. The Income/Revenue for Westchester Torah Academy / WTA fell 67% from Year End Dec 2015 to Year End Dec 2016. Specifically, income fell $3,388,352 in 2015 to $1,106,751 in 2016.

    These figures are as reported by the Westchester Torah Academy / WTA
    http://www.orgcouncil.com/ein/461423761

    These figures show two things:
    1 – External funding has dried up
    2 – WTA has roughly 107 students as reported — $1.1 Million / 107 students = roughly $10.3K of income per student which is very close to the advertised tuition

    In regard to expenses, the Westchester Torah Academy website indicates a staff of 21. Assuming an average cost per employee of $50K (salary + benefits + taxes) and classroom rent of at least $100K for those 100 students, that leaves nothing to cover operating expenses. And, at that, my estimates are probably on the low side.

    With the school adding a 5th grade class for 2017/18 needs to hire at least one new teacher.

    What does this mean? Will enrollment remains stagnant or even decrease once again, WTA will quickly eat into their financial reserves.

    WTA advertises how fast they are growing, how well respected the school is, etc, but it seems that much like a Platinum Partners Fund, expenses are exceeding income and what is being advertised does not match reality.

  2. NY State publishes student enrollment figures for all non-public schools in the state. According to the figures for Westchester Torah Academy – WTA :
    * The Pre-K class halved in size from 37 students in the 2015/2016 School Year to a record school low of 15 students in the 2016/2017 School Year
    * Of the 37 Pre-K students in 2015/2016 class only 17 went onto Kindergarten in the 2016/2017 School Year
    * Although adding a fourth grade class in the 2016/2017 school year, total school enrollment fell from 114 to 107 students

    Total enrollment dropping by 6% in the 2016/2017 school year despite adding another grade level does not bode well for the future of the school.

  3. To all readers of this warped blog.
    Lost Messiah likes to assume Platinum was a scam. WRONG. Platinum was a legit well run hedge fund that became cash strapped like many other concerns when oild prices fell dramatically a few years ago. Mark is an honest and upstanding individual. You may be surprised but the feds are acting like Stalinist Russia in their zeal to find felonies where there are none. Thsi article like so many others on Lost Messiah tells the true story of why we have a lost Messiah.

    • “Mark is an honest and upstanding individual”. In what world of fantasy do you live?

      No One Questioned This Hedge Fund’s Madoff-Like Returns (Bloomberg)

      In the years before Mark Nordlicht was arrested for what’s alleged to be one of the biggest investment frauds since Bernie Madoff’s, U.S. authorities had plenty of reasons to suspect something might have been fishy about his hedge fund, Platinum Partners.

      As far back as 2007, Bank of Montreal accused Nordlicht of helping a rogue trader, costing it more than $500 million. Three years later, when the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating what it called a “scheme to profit from the imminent deaths of terminally ill patients,” the agency discovered that Platinum had funded the deals. And in 2011, a Florida lawyer who confessed to running a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme testified that Nordlicht, his biggest funder, lied to help him lure new investors.

      Nordlicht exits federal court in Brooklyn on Dec. 19.Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
      And then there were the remarkable profits: 17 percent annually on average from 2003 through 2015, with no down years. The returns were almost as smooth as the fake gains that Madoff claimed year after year, as measured by a popular metric called the Sharpe ratio.

      But until Murray Huberfeld, who founded Platinum with Nordlicht, was caught up in a New York City municipal-corruption probe in June, no one at the fund had been charged with wrongdoing. Within weeks of Huberfeld’s arrest, federal agents raided Platinum’s midtown Manhattan office. On Dec. 19, Nordlicht and six others were arrested in what the government called a $1 billion fraud. Nordlicht and Huberfeld have pleaded not guilty, and Platinum’s main fund is being wound down after filing for bankruptcy. Montieth Illingworth, a spokesman for Platinum, declined to comment.

      Smooth Returns

      That Platinum was able to avoid scrutiny for so long illustrates flaws in the post-Madoff regulatory regime. While the SEC says it now conducts “risk-based examinations” of funds that have suspiciously smooth returns, the agency didn’t do a thorough on-site audit of Platinum until 2015, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Judy Burns, an SEC spokeswoman, declined to comment.

      “The returns alone make no sense,” said Joelle Scott, who investigates money managers as senior vice president at Corporate Resolutions Inc. in New York. “This isn’t a Madoff thing where it was hard to find. This was a glaring, documented history of bad behavior.”

      The fund’s presentations for investors touted its top-tier auditors and “independent valuations” by an experienced consultant. But those gatekeepers relied on Platinum to provide information about its investments. The valuation consultant says the firm never visited the California oil fields that supposedly accounted for much of Platinum’s assets. Even a simple check of public records would have revealed they were barely producing oil.

      Nordlicht, 48, a second-generation commodities trader, started Platinum in 2003 with seed money from Huberfeld, a penny-stock trader from Brooklyn whose family owned a chain of kosher fast-food restaurants. Nordlicht, who has the rumpled look of a professor, was the face of the fund. Huberfeld, 56, who had been sanctioned three times for alleged securities-law violations, stayed in the background.

      Little known on Wall Street, Nordlicht and Huberfeld cultivated connections in New York’s Orthodox Jewish community. Among the investors they recruited were the Gindi family, owners of the Century 21 department-store chain, and real estate moguls Ruby Schron and Abraham Fruchthandler. The Gindis, Schron and Fruchthandler declined to comment.

      “You win some, you lose some,” said another investor, Gordon Diamond, a meat magnate who served on the board of a Holocaust charity with Huberfeld. “I guess I should have done more due diligence.”

      Platinum Gains

      Platinum’s first close call came in 2007, when Bank of Montreal discovered that a natural gas trader had been covering up huge bets, many of them with the hedge fund. The bank was forced to liquidate the trades, resulting in big gains for Platinum, among others, according to Vince Lanci, who handled some of the bets as an independent trader and managed money for the fund.

      The problem was that Platinum’s Nordlicht was also chairman of Optionable Inc., a brokerage that, according to prosecutors, provided price quotes to the rogue trader. Bank of Montreal sued Nordlicht, saying he helped devise the trades. Nordlicht denied knowing anything about the fraud, and the case was settled out of court.

      The FBI investigated, arrested the rogue trader and charged the chief executive officer of Optionable with aiding the scheme. Both men pleaded guilty. Nordlicht wasn’t accused of wrongdoing by the government. When the Optionable CEO was released from prison in 2014, he went to work for a company controlled by Platinum.

      The trades with Bank of Montreal helped Platinum record a 53 percent gain in 2007. That attracted investors, and its main fund’s assets more than doubled to $567 million by the end of the year.

      Ostrich Boots

      Nordlicht needed to put that money to work. That’s when he found Scott Rothstein, a Florida lawyer who was promising huge returns to investors who would advance him funds against future payments from legal settlements. Rothstein’s wild spending had turned him into a Gatsby-like figure on the Fort Lauderdale charity circuit. Short and stocky, he wore pinstriped suits, loud hand-painted ties and orange ostrich boots.

      Platinum and related funds advanced him more than $100 million through a feeder fund at an annual interest rate of 50 percent. Rothstein would later say that was so high his investors should have known something was wrong. In 2009, he missed a payment. Nordlicht flew to Florida for a meeting, which Rothstein described in a deposition two years later, after he pleaded guilty to the fraud.

      The two men sat facing each other on a couch in his office. Rothstein said in his deposition that he wasn’t sure if Nordlicht knew that the lawsuits and settlements didn’t really exist. “If we go down, you go down,” Rothstein recalled saying. “We’re in this together.”

      Rothstein said Nordlicht told him his father had been investigated for fraud and that he didn’t want to relive the experience. He talked about the situation with Bank of Montreal.

      “He was trying to explain to me without using the words that he was a player, that he got it,” Rothstein said. “He said these things only blow up when the parties start fighting.”

      Never Charged

      Rothstein said in his deposition that Nordlicht agreed to lie by giving positive references to potential investors. Over the next six months, Rothstein said, Platinum and related funds stopped advancing him money and received all but about $20 million back as he raised cash from others.

      Nordlicht was never charged in connection with the Ponzi scheme and has denied helping Rothstein, who’s now in the witness protection program because he also informed on organized crime. Nordlicht wrote to investors that Platinum, like others, was tricked by Rothstein and that the fund recovered its losses by suing a bank for its role in the scheme.

      With potential losses from Rothstein’s fraud averted, Platinum’s main fund posted gains of 21 percent in 2009 and 19 percent in 2010, according to investor presentations.

      That year the fund popped up on the radar of the SEC, which was investigating a scheme involving a Los Angeles rabbi who, the agency later alleged, tricked terminally ill hospice patients into providing personal information so annuities could be purchased in their names.

      The annuities were funded by Platinum, which had put up more than $56 million, according to investigation records. It spent four years building its case. But when its enforcement actions were announced in 2014, the SEC only fined the intermediaries who ran the scheme and a shell company set up by Platinum to hold its money. Nordlicht and the fund itself weren’t named or accused of wrongdoing.

      Oil Flop

      By then, Platinum was inflating its returns by reporting false valuations for some assets, according to prosecutors in Brooklyn who brought charges last month. One of the biggest was the California oil fields. The firm’s year-end financials for 2014 valued them at about $140 million. In reality, the project was a flop that barely produced any oil, people familiar with the matter said in August.

      CohnReznick LLP, the New York accounting firm that audited Platinum’s financial statements, declined to comment. The valuation agent, Sterling Valuation Group, said it was lied to by the fund and didn’t check the information it was provided. Sterling’s reports noted that the valuations depended on what the fund told it, according to Eric Rose, a spokesman for the New York-based firm.

      “Obviously, a more expensive valuation would involve such activities as visiting the investment location or interviewing personnel,” said Rose, who added that the valuation firm isn’t under investigation.

      Because Platinum couldn’t sell the oil fields, the fund started to depend on money from new investors to pay off those who wanted their money back, prosecutors said. In December 2013, an intermediary introduced Huberfeld to Norman Seabrook, who controlled a pension fund as president of the New York City correction officers’ union, according to prosecutors.

      Huberfeld agreed to pay Seabrook a kickback if he invested his union’s pension funds with Platinum, the U.S. said. After the union put in $20 million, the intermediary, who’s cooperating with the corruption probe, allegedly gave Seabrook $60,000 stuffed in a Ferragamo bag. Seabrook and Huberfeld pleaded not guilty.

      ‘SEC Room’

      That money tided Platinum over for only a short time. “It can’t go on like this or practically we will need to wind down,” Nordlicht wrote in a June 2014 e-mail cited by the SEC.

      The next year, SEC lawyers conducted an examination of Platinum. They spent so much time at its offices that Nordlicht started calling a conference room “the SEC room,” the person with knowledge of the matter said. When the lawyers left by the end of the year without bringing any charges, Nordlicht told investors he’d been given a clean bill of health, the person said.

      That wasn’t exactly true. The SEC sued Platinum last month at the same time prosecutors filed their case and credited its examiners with uncovering suspicious activity.

      Nordlicht displayed little concern when interviewed for an October 2015 Bloomberg article. In that story, hedge fund researcher Nate Anderson said Platinum displayed “red flags you can see from outer space.” Nordlicht argued that while he exploited loopholes, he always did it to earn money for the fund’s investors. “We’ll scour the four corners of the earth for the best risk-adjusted strategy,” he said.

      The next month, so many investors asked for their money back that Nordlicht was forced to admit that some of the fund’s assets couldn’t be sold right away. By that December, Platinum’s managers were contemplating fleeing the country, according to prosecutors.

      “Assume we are not coming back to ny,” Huberfeld wrote in an e-mail to Nordlicht cited by prosecutors. “We can fly straight to Europe from Miami on Tuesday. Take passport.”

    • PLATINUM WAS A LEGITIMATE VENTURE CREATED TO SCAM PEOPLE. IT FOLLOWS A PATTERN AND A HISTORY OF FRAUD, CORRUPTION AND CREATIVE THEFT. THE PEOPLE WHO RAN IT SHOULD SIT IN PRISON NEXT TO MADOFF, SHARE A CELL – FOREVER…

  4. Thank you Lost Messiah for caring about this angle when no one else is covering it. It is well known that Nordlicht bought the property for WTA, total cost = $5 million. We can only hope it doesn’t get clawed back from the school when the feds come looking for money to pay back investors. The reason for such lofty projections is that until they reach those heights his school loses money…we can all guess who’s been covering the tab. But who is going to cover it now?

    • @Concerned Parent. You are welcome. It is unfortunate that children are being used as pawns to broker deals and finance Nordlicht’s (and Platinum’s) financial activities; or alternatively that they are being used to clean the whole sordid financial underworld of Platinum and its partners. We receive endless emails trying to establish that the ends should justify the means. We don’t believe that to be true. Whether or not Mark Nordlicht cares about the children is of little consequence, it is clear that he cares about the financial aspects of the school as a tax exempt business endeavor and the associated charities as different washing machines. We would like to see the money clawed back only insofar as such would allow the feds to go after Nordlicht’s personal finances, which we think are locked up in a series of trusts. We hope, however, that it does not adversely impact the children. We to who will cover the tab now, it is anyone’s guess. If you have information, please feel free to send it along via email. We will continue to cover this angle. There are a few things we find reprehensible: 1) he has used children as a cloak of righteousness after being morally bankruptcy when he took money from investors and 2) he has profited handsomely without contemplating how others would be affected by Platinum’s greed. We would like to see everyone who got scammed get his or her money back.

    • Concerned parent: we realize that this response is late in coming or perhaps it is now timely. We believe that articles connected to this subject are responsible for taking the site down. Many of the commenters from detractors of our site were either removed or not returned in the rebuild leaving something of a pattern. Any information you have on the WTA angle and its Platinum/Huberfeld/Nordlicht connection would be gratefully appreciated. They can be posted or gmailed.

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