A Queens rabbi has pleaded guilty to embezzling $5 million from his taxpayer-funded Queens preschool — money intended for Orthodox Jewish special-needs students ages 3 to 5.
Rabbi Samuel Hiller, the former assistant director of Island Child Development Center in Far Rockaway, is expected to be sentenced to one to three years prison after Thursday’s guilty plea to first-degree grand larceny, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
Under the terms of his plea, Hiller, 59, will forfeit $1 million in seized assets and must pay $1 million more by the time he is sentenced June 15, Brown said. If he fails to make the deadline, he’ll be sentenced instead to two to six years. Hiller will also agree to pay an additional $3 million at a later date, Brown said.
Hiller used the embezzled funds — stolen between 2005 and 2012 — to prop up several for-profit summer camps he ran. He also used $30,000 to revamp the plumbing in his Elvira Avenue home in Far Rockaway, prosecutors said.
“Stealing from the public is bad enough, but exploiting small children to pay your plumber and support your for-profit camps, is reprehensible,” noted state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a statement Friday.
It was DiNapoli’s office that uncovered the embezzlement scheme, in which three of the rabbi’s colleagues were also charged.
The comptroller’s office had notified Hiller’s child development center in 2012 that it would be conducting a routine audit. But when auditors arrived that July, they were told that the then-executive director, Ira Kurman, had left his position — and taken all of his books and records with him.
After an initial investigation, the comptroller’s office referred the case the the Queens DA’s Detective and Economic Crimes bureaus.
Kurman has already pleaded guilty to first-degree grand larceny, as has co-defendant Roy Hoffman, who had been hired by the pre-school to serve as its state-mandated independent auditor.
The case against the third co-defendant, Daniel Laniado, 44, of Brooklyn, a self-described “investor” in the school, is still pending.
Prosecutors say Laniado used some of the more than $1 million he pocketed to stock the shelves of his kosher supermarket in Borough Park, and to buy 7.5 carats in uncut diamonds.