Lakewood – LA Times – What is going on? A Little Fraud, Perhaps?

Getty Images Lakewood1-0

Raids in New Jersey town target ultra-Orthodox Jews accused of welfare fraud. ‘What is going on here?’

 

LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-new-jersey-orthodox-20170923-story.html

It was the dramatic kickoff of a series of well-publicized raids that since late June have netted 26 suspects on charges of stealing $2 million in government benefits. Prosecutors say that the suspects understated their income to get free healthcare, food stamps, rental subsidies and other benefits.

All of those arrested — 13 men and 13 women — were ultra-Orthodox Jews. The charges have tapped into a well of festering hostility toward an insular and eccentric minority.

nce a backwater at the edge of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, Lakewood is now home to one of the largest concentrations of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. They are a fast-growing population with a high birthrate; the population of Lakewood has exploded from 45,000 in 1990 to more than 100,000 today. Many of the newcomers are from large families priced out of Brooklyn by gentrification.

At first glance, little sets Lakewood apart from any number of other suburban communities on the fringes of the New York metropolitan area. But the differences are there. Signs are commonly in Hebrew and Yiddish. The Shop-Rite has closed and was replaced by Glatt Gourmet, a kosher supermarket. New subdivisions have Jewish-themed street names, like Hadassah Lane.

Like the Amish, these strictly observant Jews are instantly recognizable by their modest dress — the women in long skirts and wigs that cover their hair, and the men with yarmulkes or black fedoras and tzitzit, the strings hanging out of their shirts that remind them of their religious obligations. Instead of buggies, though, they mostly drive SUVs or minivans to fit large broods of children.

Around New York, there are a handful of similar towns that are dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews, but only in Lakewood have federal and state authorities laid down the gauntlet so definitively.

Many young families are heavily dependent on government benefits. Couples marry and bear children young, usually in their early 20s while the fathers are full-time students in religious schools, the mothers working part-time doing office work.

With five or more children, many of them with special needs — a result attributed to women having multiple births until late in life and genetic disorders in a relatively closed population — families cannot survive without government assistance, especially to buy health insurance.

In Lakewood, 65,000 people — more than half the town’s population — are on Medicaid, the government health program for low-income families, according to state data. Lakewood has more children with two parents receiving government benefits than any other municipality in New Jersey, including large, chronically depressed cities such as Newark and Camden. A report by the Asbury Park Press found that Lakewood had received 14% of the money from a $34-million state fund for catastrophic illnesses in children, despite having only 2% of the state’s children. It also found that the town had 29 times more grant recipients than any other town in New Jersey.

In 2015, the New Jersey state controller’s office flagged the disproportionate sums of government money being absorbed by Lakewood. The town didn’t look poor by any conventional yardsticks of poverty.

“You have a family or six or seven or eight, somebody is paying the mortgage, somebody is paying the taxes, they have two cars in the driveway, they’ve got food for all the kids … and they’re reporting their total income at $10,000,’’ said Joseph Coronato, the Ocean County prosecutor who took the lead in the case. “You have to ask — what is going on here?’’

In one case unsealed by the court in June, a couple with six children are alleged to have reported their income at $39,000 per year — low enough to qualify for Medicaid — when in fact they were getting more than $1 million annually from a limited liability corporation.

Members of the religious community say that cases of deliberate fraud are rare. For the most part, they say, the couples caught up in prosecutions had failed to report money they’d gotten from parents who were either paying the tuition for children in private schools or helping with the mortgage.

“The rules are very confusing. You have to be a Talmudist to figure out which program treats gifts from family as ordinary income,” said Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, the Lakewood head of what is called the Vaad, a self-governing council for the ultra-Orthodox community.

People most often got in trouble with their Medicaid applications, motivated by their inability to afford market-rate health insurance, which he said ran as high as $30,000 annually for a large family. Several of the families have disabled children, he noted.

“None of these people used any of this welfare money for an extravagant lifestyle. They were struggling to make ends meet and trying to pay medical bills,” said Harold Herskowitz, a businessman who runs a toy store in Lakewood. He believes the prosecutions were motivated by hostility toward the ultra-Orthodox.

“I’m the child of Holocaust survivors; I don’t appreciate Jewish people dragged out in public early in the morning,” Herskowitz said.

The initial arrests in June received extensive news coverage, with television crews tipped off in advance to film the scenes of couples in handcuffs being led away. Following complaints, the prosecutors have made subsequent arrests more discreetly, but still the publicity rankles.

The case has tapped into a wave of hostility toward the community. Last month, somebody hung an anti-Semitic banner on a Holocaust memorial in Lakewood, and fliers were distributed on the windshields of cars with photos of those arrested under the caption, “Thieving Jews Near You.”

Under fire from many sides, the observant Jews of Lakewood are trying to burnish their reputation in New Jersey. They’ve hosted outreach programs between the community and the police — Bagels, Lox & Cops, as the meetings have been called. Other public programs have been designed to advise ultra-Orthodox families on how to stay on the legal side of public assistance programs.

Lakewood, about 50 miles from New York City, was a resort town for the New York elite beginning in the late 19th century, attracting luminaries such as Mark Twain and members of the Rockefeller family. Their fancy retreats were later turned into kosher hotels catering to working- and middle-class Jews, the town becoming an extension of the Catskills’ Borscht belt across the border in New York state.

In 1943, the Rabbi Aharon Kotler, a Holocaust survivor who fled Lithuania, picked the town for his Beth Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva — religious school — that is now one of the world’s largest with 6,500 students, all men. That would in turn attract other yeshivas, along with Jewish primary schools, kosher delicatessens and shops.

“It was an idyllic little town with a strong Jewish flavor,’’ said Aaron Kotler, the founder’s grandson and current head of the yeshiva, in an interview in his sprawling suburban ranch house, the walls proudly displaying oil paintings of previous generations of bearded rabbis. “My grandfather chose Lakewood because it was quiet, which is ironic because people complain the yeshiva has ruined the quiet.’’

Kotler describes Lakewood today as one of the most attractive destinations for young religious Jews to study and raise families, making the demographics similar to other university towns.

“I like to think of Lakewood as poor by choice,’’ said Kotler.

The community has shown itself to be unusually adept at navigating the intricacies of politics and government.

“Their lives depend on knowing everything about how Section 8 [subsidized rental housing] works and getting into WICs,” the government Women, Infants and Childrenfood assistance program, said Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queen College who has written several books on the community.

Politically speaking, the ultra-Orthodox wield clout beyond their numbers, with adult members almost always turning out for elections and voting as a single bloc.

“They tend to vote like the Christian right, and they have learned to make their votes very important,” said Heilman.

In all of New Jersey, Lakewood had the highest concentration of Donald Trump voters in last year’s presidential election – 74.4%. With their children all in private religious schools, they are strong supporters of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary who has called for school vouchers. Charles and Seryl Kushner, the parents of Trump aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are benefactors of the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, and the rotunda of the school’s 2-year-old main building is named for them.

Ultra-Orthodox votes are even more important in local political races. They have installed candidates who favor their interests on the Lakewood school board, township committee and zoning board.

Lakewood’s 30,000 ultra-Orthodox children are ferried to 130 private religious schools on public school buses — boys and girls separately, since they attend single-sex schools — while public schools with only 6,000 children, mostly Latino and African American, have been gutted by a lack of funding. (This is in part due to a quirk in New Jersey’s school financing formula that requires busing for private school students but reimburses the districts based on public school enrollment.)

Some 4,000 new units of housing have been approved in Lakewood in the last two years, making the township the fastest-growing municipality in New Jersey. Real estate developers catering to the ultra-Orthodox are carving new subdivisions lined with four- and five-bedroom townhouses for large families.

“When I moved here, there were trees. Now I wake up and I’m surrounded by high-density townhouses,” said Tom Gatti, a retiree who heads a coalition of senior citizens opposing the pace of new development in Lakewood. “Anytime you try to challenge anything the ultra-Orthodox are doing, they drop the anti-Semitic card on the table.

“They are not looking to assimilate into the community; they are trying to take over,’’ Gatti said.

The ultra-Orthodox Jews also face criticism from less religious and secular Jews.

“Being observant should, first and foremost, involve living and working ethically,’’ complained a hard-hitting editorial in the Forward, the Yiddish- and English-language Jewish publication based in New York. The editorial called the welfare fraud cases “a desecration of God’s name.’’

“It’s too simple to say that this is a problem with Jews,’’ said Heilman, the sociology professor. “It is not their Jewishness that has created the problems; it is the way they interpret the demands of being Jewish.’’

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On the Lamm – Voter Fraud and Recent Arrests

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The Monte Scoop – Interesting, interesting! They didn’t… | Facebook

Interesting, interesting! They didn’t think the FBI would catch them!

This is a summary of previously published information, it is a bit lengthy, but this narrative is worth your time.

Shalom Lamm and his partner Ken Nakdimen who is from Monsey, NY, developers of the controversial high density development project called “The Villages at Chestnut Ridge”, chose the Village of Bloomingburg in Sullivan County, NY not just for it’s bucolic setting – but because they realized the “small town” village government could easily be taken over by newcomers voting in an organized bloc.

The plan was to control the local government and in doing so, create Village zoning and ordinances that would turn Bloomingburg into a new and massive Hasidic community.

In early 2014, in advance of the March Village election, well over 100 “new” Hasidic people registered to vote in Sullivan County, claiming addresses in Bloomingburg connected to properties owned by Lamm.

Informed local residents brought formal challenges to these registrations before the Sullivan County Board of Elections, claiming that these “new” voters were not legal residents for voting purposes at all, but in fact, had been brought in and assigned bogus addresses by the developers to blatantly rig the election in their favor and to take over the Village. (In fact in the December 2016 indictment the accused used deceptive tactics like placing toothpaste and other props in vacant apartments.)

Based on their reading of the challenges and a subsequent investigation which included demands for proof of residency and the Sullivan County Sheriff’s onsite review of the buildings involved, the Sullivan County Board of Elections agreed with the challenges and issued three Notices of Determinations. (Read the Board of Elections’ determinations based on challenges made by residents James Cracolici, John Kahrs, and Anita Hoppe. They make for a very interesting read!)

On March 13, two days after these challenges were submitted, the FBI rolled into Bloomingburg for a massive raid. The Feds raided Shalom Lamm’s buildings (where people claimed to live) – including his offices.

FBI raids Developers Shalom Lamm’s properties in Bloomingburg
http://www.recordonline.com/article/20140314/NEWS/403140348

UPDATED: FBI Raids Bloomingburg Properties Owned By Developer Shalom Lamm In Ongoing Public Corruption Investigation
http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/…/fbi-raids-bloomingburg-p…

According to court testimony from a Sullivan County election commissioner — she heard at the polls during the March 2014 Village election, some new Hasidic voters in Bloomingburg state they didn’t know what street they lived on or what county they were in.

Two more elections followed the March 2014 election and they were both clouded by ongoing challenges to registrations claiming voter fraud. (These two elections determined 1. that the Village would not be dissolved into the Town of Mamakating and 2, put pro-Lamm elected officials into office).

Finally, and to the great relief and satisfaction of the citizens of Mamakating, Bloomingburg and Sullivan County, on December 15, 2016, federal agents arrested Shalom Lamm; his business partner, Kenneth Nakdimen, and a young Satmar man named Volvy “Zev” Smilowitz.

Prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York indicted the men on charges of conspiring to corrupt the electoral process. (See below for the press release issued by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.)

Three Real Estate Developers Charged In White Plains Federal Court With Conspiracy To Corrupt The Electoral Process In Bloomingburg, New York
https://www.justice.gov/…/three-real-estate-developers-char…

It also should be noted, that after having reported on the “cultural clash” between the residents of Bloomingburg and the Hasidic newcomers, with little or no interest in the allegations of ongoing corruption and voter fraud, the New York Times pulled out of Bloomingburg and never even reported on the 2014 FBI raid. Never mind that the raid and ongoing saga was reported nationally by many other news outlets. The Times simply refused to cover the story. Now why is that?

It seems Shalom Lamm didn’t think his plan could fail – or maybe as suggested by the three citizen challengers, he wouldn’t have assigned multiple individuals and families to the same addresses and not even bother to assign them apartment or room numbers! Or he wouldn’t have asked people to claim an address in a building he didn’t even own yet! Or he would not have had his own children who were living and working in Israel at the time, register to vote in Bloomingburg.

And as Preet Bharara says: “stay tuned” for possibly more details on the voter fraud from 2014 and more indictments in Bloomingburg, a tiny, tiny village in New York State!

THE PLOT THICKENS
The jump from 396 to 5,000 houses planned for the Bloomingburg Hasidic community: What Lamm’s private emails and documents revealed about his secret development plans despite what he was saying publicly

In secret documents released as part of a lawsuit brought by Shalom Lamm, the developers were exposed in stunning fashion as, among other things, having two sets of plans — one set for the Planning Board to win approval and the other, the real plans, referred to by Nakdimen as the “Yiddishe” plans – for what they intended to actually build.

Additionally, in the emails, those in Mamakating and Bloomingburg opposed to the development, are referred to as the “goyishe enemy.”

See link below for an article and also the attached jpgs of the emails. These are A MUST READ!

5,000 homes planned for Bloomingburg Hasidic community
http://www.recordonline.com/…/5000-homes-planned-for-bloomi…

What’s next? Do the people of Bloomingburg and Mamakating get their Village back? What does the developer’s arrest mean for the future of Hasidic Bloomingburg?

Editorial: Lots to do and re-do in Bloomingburg mess
http://www.recordonline.com/…/editorial-lots-to-do-and-re-d…

What Does Developer’s Arrest Mean for the Future of Hasidic Bloomingburg?
http://forward.com/…/what-does-developers-arrest-mean-for-…/

Editorial: Bloomingburg secrecy needs state attention
http://www.recordonline.com/article/20160427/NEWS/160429415

Stay tuned!

Shalom Lamm and Voter Fraud – What Will He Not do to Make Money?

shalom lamm
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 15, 2016

Three Real Estate Developers Charged In White Plains Federal Court With Conspiracy To Corrupt The Electoral Process In Bloomingburg, New York

Shalom Lamm and Others Charged in Voter Fraud Scheme in Connection with a March 2014 Bloomingburg Election

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), today announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging SHALOM LAMM, KENNETH NAKDIMEN, and VOLVY SMILOWITZ, a/k/a “Zev Smilowitz,” with conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process, in connection with an election in Bloomingburg, New York.   Bharara also today announced the guilty plea of HAROLD BAIRD, a former Town Supervisor of Mamakating, New York, to conspiracy to submit false voter registrations, charged in a one-count Information unsealed today.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated:  “In pursuit of millions of dollars in profits from a real estate development project, the defendants allegedly hatched a cynical ploy to corrupt the electoral process in Bloomingburg.  As alleged, to get public officials supportive of their development project elected to local government, the defendants concocted a scheme to falsely register voters who did not live in Bloomingburg, including some who had never even set foot there.  And to cover up their voter fraud scheme, the defendants allegedly back-dated fake leases and even placed toothpaste and toothbrushes in empty apartments to make them appear occupied by the falsely registered voters.  Profit-driven corruption of democracy cannot be allowed to stand no matter who does it or where it happens.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. stated:  “Today’s charges allege the defendants corruptly advanced their own personal real estate projects in Bloomingburg, New York, at the expense of honest citizens who expect and deserve a fair election system.  In their scheme to promote their own real estate development projects, the defendants violated federal law as they schemed to put themselves first.  This type of behavior simply won’t be tolerated.”

As alleged in the Indictment unsealed today in White Plains federal court[1]:

SHALOM LAMM, KENNETH NAKDIMEN, and VOLVY SMILOWITZ, a/k/a “Zev Smilowitz,” the defendants, were real estate developers who, starting in or about 2006, sought to build and sell real estate in Bloomingburg, New York.  From these real estate development projects, the defendants hoped for and anticipated making hundreds of millions of dollars.  But by late 2013, the first of their real estate developments had met local opposition, and still remained under construction and uninhabitable.  When met with resistance, rather than seek to advance their real estate development project through legitimate means, the defendants instead decided to corrupt the democratic electoral process in Bloomingburg by falsely registering voters and paying bribes for voters who would help elect public officials favorable to their project.

Specifically, in advance of an election in March 2014 for Mayor of Bloomingburg and other local officials, LAMM, NAKDIMEN, and SMILOWITZ, the defendants, and others working on their behalf, developed and worked on a plan to falsely register numerous people who were not entitled to register and vote in Bloomingburg, because they actually lived elsewhere.  People the defendants falsely sought to register to vote in Bloomingburg included those who never intended to live in Bloomingburg, those who had never kept a home in Bloomingburg, and indeed, some who had never even set foot in Bloomingburg in their lives.  The defendants took steps to cover up their scheme to register voters who did not actually live in Bloomingburg by, among other things, creating and back-dating false leases and placing items like toothbrushes and toothpaste in unoccupied apartments to make it seem as if the falsely registered voters lived there.

LAMM, NAKDIMEN, and SMILOWITZ, the defendants, also bribed potential voters by offering payments, subsidies, and other items of value to get non-residents of Bloomingburg to unlawfully register and vote there.  LAMM, for example, agreed to pay an individual $500 for every voter that the individual procured, and LAMM and NAKDIMEN’s real estate company ultimately paid the individual more than $30,000 per month for his efforts.

As alleged in a separate Information unsealed today in White Plains federal court:

From in or about January 2014 through in or about March 2014, BAIRD conspired with others to submit false voter registrations so that he could run for political office and vote in Bloomingburg.  In fact, however, BAIRD did not live in Bloomingburg, and his voter registrations were false.

*                      *                     *

LAMM, NAKDIMEN, and SMILOWITZ were arrested this morning and will be arraigned today on the charges in the Indictment before United States Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy in the White Plains federal courthouse.

LAMM, 57, of Bloomingburg, NAKDIMEN, 64, of Monsey, New York, and SMILOWITZ, 28, of Monroe, New York, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, in particular to corrupt the electoral process by submitting false voter registrations, buying voter registrations, and offering bribes for voter registrations and votes.  The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

BAIRD, 60, of Sullivan County, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to submit false voter registrations, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  The defendant will be sentenced at a future date.  The case is assigned to United States District Judge Cathy Seibel.

The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencings of the defendants would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI-Hudson Valley White Collar Crime Task Force, the Sullivan County District Attorney’s Office, the Sullivan County Sherriff’s Office, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.  Mr. Bharara also thanked the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section, Election Crimes Branch, for its assistance in the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s White Plains Division.  Assistant United States Attorneys Kathryn Martin, Benjamin Allee, and Perry Carbone are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Clarkstown Wants a Get…

 

Clarkstown What They Don’t Want you to Know – Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/Clarkstown-What-They-Dont-Want-You-To-Know-146207698912716/

 

Dear Ramapo:

We need to talk.

We’ve been together a long time now. We started out together with so much in common and love in our hearts towards one another. However, there can be no denying that lately we’ve been drifting apart in our political marriage. It pains us to say it, but we have come to realize that we are now roadblocks to each other on our individual paths to happiness and we want a divorce, or as you would put it, we would like to get a ‘get.’

Please don’t blame yourself for any of this. It’s not you, it’s us. Our breaking point came when we were watching TV last night and we learned that your brothers in Kiryas Joel want to get a ‘get’ from their secular partners in the Town of Monroe so they can live alone in their new Town of North Monroe where secularism can be kept out and your God can be kept in. That told us that you don’t love us anymore. So here in Rockland we have decided to get a similar ‘get’ from you and as the residents of Clarkstown and Orangetown we will think of living separately in a new City called ‘South Rockland’ where both God and secularism will be welcome.

You have worked tirelessly all the time we have been together to create a very unique world for yourself where laws and rules fluidly bend or silently break to accommodate the lifestyle you want to lead. You are thriving in that world, and we admire your resourcefulness and creativity in removing the obstacles that stand in the way of your progress. We see how happy you are when you are in that environment, but we have also come to understand that we no longer fit in there. We no longer share the same visions and goals, which regrettably means that we are incompatible as long term partners. Please don’t be upset, just give us the ‘get.’

We see how miserable we make you with our constant nagging to provide a standardized NYS education to kids in a building that meets basic fire safety standards. We don’t know why we fear that kids now growing up won’t be able to support themselves when we know that ultimately government welfare will provide for them anyway. We don’t know why we can’t stop worrying that children might die at school while desperately trying to escape from behind sealed doors in a fire when we know how statistically unlikely that is to happen.

We don’t know why we lie awake at night fretting over the environmental impact of rampant overdevelopment when we know full well that we will be long gone before that impact is felt. We don’t know why we worry about a sustainable water supply, or the civil rights of others, but we do. We can’t help it, but we recognize our constant nagging is making you unhappy, and in the process we have become unhappy ourselves.

For these reasons, we ask that you give us a ‘get’.

Don’t worry that we will ask for any of your assets in this divorce. You can have Christopher St. Lawrence, Samuel Tress, Alden Wolfe and the rest of them and we will even let you keep Aney Paul. We promise that we won’t say a thing if Aron Wieder replaces Ed Day as your County Executive – after all you already elected him as your ‘de facto’ county executive.

We know how hard you worked to get all those multi-family housing developments built and we know how much political capital was spent in getting them approved. You will now need to hire a new building inspector as your present one was arrested last night while watching the video below. We don’t want to take any of that away from you if you agree to grant us the ‘get’. You earned the poverty you are living in and we want you to keep that as a token of our appreciation for giving us our ‘get’. The same goes for the Medicaid benefits and the Section 8 status – they are all yours. We will pay for the Medicaid costs in our own new community and will not burden you in asking for any assistance from your legislature.

We hope you will not worry about our ability to live alone separated from your formerly warm embrace. We did share many, many happy years together before we grew apart and became exhausted by your interminable hang-up about being fruitful and multiplying. We will be in a happier place where we can abide by all of our own hangups – we admit that we have many – such as getting our children into a good college and keeping them off the welfare rolls. We know it might seem crazy, but we actually believe that kids should learn about science, literature and other cultures including those of the goyim. We will sleep better at night knowing that code enforcement is being conducted and zoning regulations are being upheld. Certainly, you will be happier not having to listen to us lecture you about these things any longer.

We promise that if we get a ‘get’ from you and we fail without your puritanical wisdom to guide us, we will pick ourselves up and push onward and not return begging for food or shelter. If you fail without us, you know that with the steady guidance of Aron Wieder and Alden Wolfe, New York State will surely step in to support you even after you have converted all of your homes into religious institutions and depleted your own tax base.

We can both trust in that whatever the future holds, things will work out fine.

So now we say “Goodbye, Ramapo. Weep not for the memories.”

With Warmest Regards,

The People of Clarkstown and Orangetown

Over Development of Ramapo and Chestnut Ridge – Concerns Shared by ALL! – CUPON

 

cupon_n

 

https://www.facebook.com/cuponcommunity/?fref=ts

Grassroots groups fighting development in Ramapo

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/rockland/ramapo/2016/08/23/opposing-development-ramapo/88841094/

RAMAPO – A year ago, a grassroots group called CUPON was formed by a Hillcrest resident who saw an urgent need to keep the area’s development in check.

Since then, that group has helped a handful of similar organizations spring up around Ramapo, a town with a long history of civic activism. They all share concerns similar to CUPON’s, which stands for Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods.

“What we wanted to do is, instead of having a big CUPON for Ramapo, we wanted an individual area to have its own CUPON-like organization,” said Micheal Miller, who started the group in Hillcrest and has subsequently helped organize other neighborhoods. “Then, if you go to a (municipal board) meeting, you’re going to be representatives of your area,” he said. “That carries much more weight than if we go as one organization.”

Ramapo is Rockland County’s fastest-growing town, home to an estimated 126,595 people with 12 villages. In recent months, new groups focused on controlling development have formed in such areas as Monsey, New Hempstead, Airmont and Chestnut Ridge.

 

“The goal is to empower the other members of the community,” said Hilda Kogut, who launched CUPON Chestnut Ridge this spring, noting that many of her fellow villagers have begun speaking up at village meetings about their concerns. “We’re making some progress.”

What activists are up against is substantial: More than 3,000 homes are proposed or could be proposed for large pieces of land that changed hands in recent years, according to Miller, who compiled the information based on property sale records and other sources. In addition to the 197-acre property in the Route 202-306 corridor just outside of Pomona where the controversial 479-unit Patrick Farm development was proposed, the list of parcels include the 130-acre Minisceongo Golf Club property on Pomona Road and the 145-acre former Edwin Gould Academy site in Chestnut Ridge.

Based on ongoing trends, those properties could potentially be developed into higher-density housing catering to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox Jewish families from outside the county, Miller said.

“They are bringing in Brooklyn to Ramapo,” Miller said. “It’s going to become an extension of New York City.”

Orthodox Jews share concern

Tension between religious and non-religious communities has been on the rise in Rockland for the past several years, fueled by strained relations between members of the East Ramapo school community and its school board, which is controlled by Orthodox Jewish residents who send their children to private schools.

But over-development is a shared concern in her Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, said Shani Bechhofer of Monsey, who has lived in a community called Viola Estates for more than a decade. A major housing development, also called Viola Estates, is under construction on a nearby 5.5-acre property on Viola Road, even though Bechhofer and her neighbors expressed their opposition before the Ramapo Planning Board, she said.

They formed a grassroots organization, Viola Estates Residents Allied for Integrity, which is also being assisted by Miller.

MONSEY DRIVE-IN: ‘Don’t assume it’s Orthodox-only,’ developer says. 

LAWSUIT: Ramapo developer building more apartments than OK’d by planners

TENSION: ‘Blockbusting’ pressures Rockland homeowners

EDITORIAL: Is ‘blockbusting’ happening here? 

“The more we were educated, the more we began to understand the issues that are affecting us, not just this development,” Bechhofer said. “That’s why we named our organization ‘Allied for Integrity.'”

Bechhofer said she was “disheartened” by the town’s response when she and her neighbors reported to officials that more units than planned were being built there. The property, formerly owned by Temple Beth El, was originally zoned for single-family homes allowing 1.74 units per acre, or a total 10 units for the site. In July 2013, the developer was granted a zone change to allow for eight units per acre, or 44 units on 5.5 acres.

As construction moved along, neighbors saw that the basements in each unit had been turned into what they saw as accessory apartments, according to a letter they sent to the town. Ramapo officials acknowledged the work done was not according to the plans but, instead of requiring the developer to follow the existing plans, officials approved revised plans that included a “finished lower level.”

In June, three neighbors sued Ramapo town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, Building Inspector Anthony Mallia and Viola Gardens LLC., the owner of the property, over the issue. Town Attorney Michael Klein has told The Journal News the lawsuit lacks merit. Attorney Steven Mogel, who was recently retained by the neighbors, said Friday that the lawsuit, filed in Putnam County Court to avoid any potential conflict in Rockland County Court, was expected to be discontinued because of procedural issues, but “it doesn’t mean that the efforts that the neighbors have engaged in are over.”

Miller, for his part, has been leading the effort to stop a 20-unit housing development, Bluefield Extension, on the 1-acre site on the east side of Union Road in Hillcrest, along the Monsey border. The property was originally zoned for single-family homes.

“This would set a precedent,” Miller said. “If they are allowed to build that, they can come into Hillcrest and do the same thing where they want to.”

Difficult balance 

From 2000 to 2010, Ramapo’s total population grew by 16.2 percent, while the statewide population grew 2.1 percent and the county’s grew 8.7 percent. The biggest increases within Ramapo were seen in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages of New Square and Kaser, which grew by 50.2 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Montebello village saw a 22.7 percent increase, and unincorporated Ramapo, including Monsey and Hillcrest, grew by 20.9 percent.

In addition to over-development,  community activists keep an eye on issues such as illegal conversions of homes, zoning and code violations, and so-called “blockbusting,” the practice of persuading homeowners to sell their property cheaply by suggesting that changes in neighborhood demographics will destroy their property values.

“Some of the villages and areas are going through all of those issues, while others are going through only some of them,” Miller said. “But, eventually, every one of them is going to affect every area.”

Leaders of the newly formed community groups say they want town officials to stop “spot zoning” —  which they think has become too common — to accommodate high-density housing development. They also want officials to enforce zoning codes more stringently.

Kogut, a retired FBI special agent who moved to Rockland decades ago as a child, said she doesn’t want her community to be overcrowded.

“If we were constructing homes for people in this county who had no place to live, I would not have been so offended,” she said.

Klein, the town attorney, said the town is trying meet the needs of different groups, the largest town in New York state outside of several on Long Island.

“We have many groups in the town who criticize us for not providing enough housing and enough development. We have other groups in the community that criticize us for providing too much development. So it’s a difficult balance that the Town Board needs to strike between what is appropriate, manageable development, and what might not be,” he said. “While I understand people have different views, particularly where it affects their immediate community, many people have different opinions on what’s appropriate development and what’s not.”

For the remainder of the article click here.

“Shalom Lamm Lied, Bloomburg Died”

 

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Will the Manamaking Victory be Short Lived?

Sullivan Farm’s [Shalom Lamm & Co.] attorneys, not present for the Planning Board vote that rescinded the Chestnut Ridge permits, promised swift legal action against the town were the permits to be rescinded. At stake was not the permits for the homes already built but for the unfinished expansion projects.

Apparently, the fact that Lamm and his partners lied on documents, had plans for creation of the occupied territories of Manamaking, is of little concern. We believe that Lamm & Co.’s lies should be first and foremost in the validity of any lawsuit and certain in the defense of one by the town. A court victory would be tantamount to a windfall, setting a precedent for future developers.  From a public policy standpoint, this would validate the use of lies and misleading statements, something any court should be obliged to consider.

Should we as a community, a county, a state, or as a country really allow for this result?

We hope that the town will stand its ground, that townspeople will continue to come together and that this victory will not be short-lived. Lamm & Co lied. They should not be rewarded for raping a community of land through lies and deceit.

Mamakating Planning Board rescinds Chestnut Ridge permits

http://www.recordonline.com/news/20160713/mamakating-planning-board-rescinds-chestnut-ridge-permits#ReaderReaction

MAMAKATING — To thunderous applause from town residents, the Mamakating Planning Board on Wednesday night voted unanimously to rescind permits for the Chestnut Ridge townhouse development in Bloomingburg.

At its third attempt at a due process hearing on the matter since June 16, the board retreated immediately into executive session to consult with Town Attorney Ben Gailey, emerging an hour and 15 minutes later to greet a crowd on edge.

“Give us the news,” one man shouted.

At stake was not just the approvals granted for the contentious 396-unit Hasidic development six years ago by the now-dissolved Bloomingburg Planning Board; at stake was the very future of this tiny, eastern Sullivan County village.

The due process hearing had been called to consider rescission of site plan approval after documents were published that showed the developers of Chestnut Ridge had bigger plans for the project than the 396 units approved in 2009.

The previously secret developers’ documents described a long-term plan for a Hasidic Jewish community of up to 5,000 homes, and the ability of the new residents to outnumber Bloomingburg’s population of 400 and take over the local government.

Summarizing the board’s 20-page resolution to rescind the permits, Gailey said:

“Based on the new evidence received by the Planning Board in the documents that were disclosed by the federal court, based on the material change in facts that the board is now aware of, and based on the materially false statements and misrepresentations made by the developer during the project review process, that warrants and requires the rescission of development approvals.”

Gailey further said those misrepresentations would have extreme adverse effects on the “fiscal impacts, water supply and traffic that are significantly at variance with the project review.”

The rescission does not affect the 51 lots and dwellings already built, but applies to the remainder of the unfinished project, Gailey said.

No further building permits or certificates of occupancy are to be issued until the developer complies with state fire code and submits an amended plan. That compliance must be satisfied with the Department of State.

The developer may submit a new application if those requirements are met, Gailey said.

No representatives of the developer, Sullivan Farms, nor its attorneys, John Henry and Terresa Bakner, attended Wednesday’s due process hearing. Bakner had previously promised a swift and punishing lawsuit against the town if the approvals were rescinded.

While the crowd was overwhelmingly ecstatic over the board’s vote, some, like Bloomingburg resident Lesleigh Weinstein, remained cautiously optimistic.

To read the complete article click, here.

The Push and Pull of the Separation of Church and State

 

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The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel and the Lessons to Be Learned – An Interview

The following is taken from a post on LinkedIn.

We are sharing it with our readers because Kiryas Joel became a blueprint for the many battles that have followed and that continue today. Perhaps history should have told us something. Just down the Thruway into Ramapo, the same battles are being fought and similar battle lines drawn. 

Following the 287/87 Corridor into Lakewood and Toms River is another similar battle, both to some extent following the same pattern as Kiryas Joel had years earlier. In both cases, the ones hurt the most are the public school or non-religious children, which in the case of Ramapo are comprised in large part of African American and Hispanic children.

Is it not about time that we as a country decide if we want to remain a Constitutional Democracy or a Theocracy?

Thanks to our contributor on this one. – Lost Messiah June 13, 2016

 

Chicago Review Press Post about Kiryas Joel Book
Mar 23, 2016
March 21, 2016 • Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: Louis Grumet and John Caher, authors of The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel

By Meaghan Miller

Louis Grumet and John Caher are the authors of The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State. Here, they talk with us about their book—which reveals a true story that took place over 20 years ago—and why the case remains significant today.

The Supreme Court case regarding the small town of Kiryas Joel became a landmark account that threatened the First Amendment. Can you tell us briefly the history of the town, and what exactly they were requesting of the New York State government?

The Village of Kiryas Joel was established in the 1970s as something of a refuge by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect who sought, in essence, a religious and cultural oasis where their children would not have to mix with or be influenced by the outside world or the public schools. They bought up vacant farmland, slowly subdivided the land, and populated it solely with members of the group. Once they had the requisite 600 inhabitants, they invoked a little-known state law and declared the community a village–Kiryas Joel, or “village of Joel,” after the founder. They kept to themselves and, at first, simply wanted to be left alone to raise their families and educate their children, on their terms and in private schools, in this little enclave. A crisis arose because of the large number of disabled children in the village, and the villagers’ inability to provide expensive educational services. In 1989, they used their considerable political clout to persuade the New York State legislature and then Governor Mario Cuomo to give the sect a “public” school for special education, marking the first time in American history that a government unit was established for a religious organization. This school would be used only by the children of a theocratic village, and it would be funded primarily by state and federal tax dollars.

Can you explain why a group like the Satmar holds such significant political leverage?

Although the community is small, the residents almost uniformly vote as they are directed by the rabbi. Consequently, the rabbi is in a position to promise—and deliver—thousands of votes. They also contribute significantly to political candidates who fulfill their requests and, when so motivated, can spark a most effective phone bank. They have no allegiance to either party and will deliver their votes and money to, basically, the highest bidder.

How do the Satmar differ from other groups that choose to separate themselves from the rest of society, like the Amish, for example?

There is a huge difference. The Amish simply want to be left alone in their self-sufficiency and do not expect, or even want, government aid. Kiryas Joel likes to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants total isolation to the extent possible, but they also want every penny of taxpayer money they can get for education, health services, water treatment, housing, and bus transportation, you name it. To be clear, I do not object to their acceptance of government aid, any more than I object to any other citizen or community receiving aid. But when they demand taxpayer money to advance religious interests, that is a problem.

Lou Grumet Credit: Megan Groppe

Lou, you had a close relationship with Governor Mario Cuomo at the time these initial events occurred. Please share with us the backstory of how you found yourself in the middle of this breach of ethics in the first place, and why you went on to become the plaintiff in the court case.

I worked for Mario Cuomo several years before these events occurred. At the time of their occurrence, I was the executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. I considered the governor a friend, mentor, and constitutional scholar, so I went to see him when I heard about the bill and asked him to veto it as a blatantly unconstitutional assault on the Establishment Clause. Governor Cuomo was dismissive with me and shrugged, “Who is going to sue me?” I told him I would, then convinced my association to take on, bravely, the most powerful man in the state. Then, I turned it over to our bright young lawyer, Jay Worona, who would live the case—and defeat the legal Goliaths sent to oppose him—for years to come.

This case took place in 1994—22 years ago. Why is now the time to be telling this story?

For one thing, church-state tension is a constant in American law and American politics, and this was a definitive Supreme Court case that set the boundaries of church-state relationships under the First Amendment. For another, just up the road from Kiryas Joel a similar sect is doing the same sort of thing in East Ramapo. There, the Hasidic community expanded to the point where it could and did take over the local school board, and proceeded to close schools and eliminate programs used largely by black and Hispanic families. It is a boiling cauldron, and in many ways Kiryas Joel was the blueprint. And finally, in recent years the Supreme Court has been rolling back the protections my case preserved, culminating in the 5–4 Hobby Lobby decision that effectively said corporations can impose religious restrictions on their employees. The architect of that backsliding was largely the recently deceased Justice Scalia, who wrote a scathing (and bombastic, I might add) dissent in the Kiryas Joel case. The political battle over Scalia’s successor comes at a crucial crossroad.

John Caher Credit: Robert D. Mayberger

These days, hardly a month goes by without religious freedom being called into question in the news or in a courtroom—from companies that refuse to provide healthcare they object to, to businesses refusing to serve certain people, all based on so-called religious grounds. Do you see your case against Kiryas Joel acting as an important cautionary tale in these ongoing debates on what constitutes religious freedom?

Very much so! If we had lost the case, there would be no reason a group of religious extremists could not buy up vacant land, declare themselves a village, and then demand that the government give them a public school to indoctrinate their children. I firmly believe that if we had not pursued this case, the “wall of separation” that Thomas Jefferson urged between church and state would have begun crumbling. And we have ample evidence throughout history (both ancient and very recent) of what occurs when that happens–chaos, bloodshed and, ultimately, the end of liberty. The natural tension between freedom of religion and freedom from religion is perpetual, and those of us who believe in both rights—the right to worship (or not) as one sees fit and the right to be free from government-sanctioned religious interference—must be eternally vigilant. In the end, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are at stake.

-compiled by Caitlin Eck

The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel officially publishes on April 1, 2016. It is available wherever books (and e-books) are sold.

“[A] readable look at the nitty-gritty of New York’s political machine.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Grumet passionately lets the reader know where he stands.”—Booklist