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

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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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Chareidi Extremism – No Smartphones

 

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/1332765/watch-chareidi-extremists-protest-monsey-store-sells-smartphones.html

Chareidi Extremists Protest Monsey Store That Sells Smartphones

No. This isn’t Meah Shearim. This is Monsey, NY on Erev Shabbos Nachamu.

These Chareidi extremists staged a protest outside the “Ping Cellular Store” which is a Verizon Wireless Dealer, located on Route 59, at the “Town Square Mall”, right next to the Evergreen Supermarket.

The group is upset that the establishment is selling smartphones.

A few dozen extremists were part of the protest, as a few dozens counter protesters grabbed their signs and yelled back.

Police were on the scene keeping the two groups apart.

It is not known who this group of extremists belong to.

Benefits Fraud – We Know For Certain it is Also Rampant in East Ramapo, Kiryas Joel, New Square, Crown Heights…

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How Benefits Fraud Scam Spread So Widely In Orthodox Town

“One thing is for sure: Many people in Lakewood were aware of the scams, if not of the specifics. In 2015, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office met with Lakewood residents to discourage government assistance fraud.

Flyers warning about the practice were also posted at a local synagogue.

“Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said in a statement at the time.

Since news of the arrests spread, there have been ominous signs that even more people could be involved. Hundreds of people have called local officials, inquiring if there would be amnesty for those who admit lying about their incomes, and the APP reported that Ocean County authorities have been swamped with calls from public assistance beneficiaries seeking to stop receiving benefits.”

Read more: http://forward.com/news/375963/how-benefits-fraud-scam-spread-so-widely-in-orthodox-town/

 

Lakewood Schools – Religion Trumping Public Education – Where is the Outrage?

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EDITORIAL: Where’s outrage over Lakewood?

http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/04/07/lakewood-orthodox-school-funding/100185464/
When are the officials who are elected to represent all their constituents going to address the funding inequities and unequal treatment of the taxpayers and public schoolchildren in Lakewood? Where have state Sen. Bob Singer, Rep. Chris Smith, Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez been on this issue?

Absolutely nowhere. Thanks to the money and power of the Orthodox community, they have done nothing to address problems that could be easily resolved if they had the courage to speak up and the integrity to represent all of their constituencies equally.

Over the past couple of weeks, readers have been exposed to two more disturbing stories about Lakewood schools. The district faces a $15 million budget deficit, the possible layoffs of more than 100 teachers and deep program cuts. And the director of the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI), Rabbi Osher Eisemann, was indicted on theft and money laundering charges involving more than $630,000 in public school funds.

It’s a disgrace — two more in the steady drip, drip of outrages that characterize a school district that has had to squeeze resources and programs to accommodate the ever-expanding needs of the Orthodox community’s private schools.

The sad part is that there is virtually nothing in the works in Trenton to correct any of it. Without vocal, organized pressure from the nonOrthodox community inside Lakewood and in the communities surrounding it, there is no reason to believe things won’t get progressively worse.

MORE: Jackson dorm ban: What the residents are saying

MORE: Letter: Lakewood’s problem isn’t anti-Semitism, it’s growth

Why should anyone who lives outside of Lakewood care? First, everyone should be outraged by the injustice that it is taking place in Lakewood’s predominantly minority public schools. Second, the population pressures in Lakewood could, over time, eventually spill over into neighboring towns — something public officials and growing numbers of residents in those town are becoming increasingly conscious of.

If Singer, Christie and other legislators with the ability to influence what goes on in Lakewood had an interest in righting the wrongs there, here are five things they could do that would help:

•The state school funding formula is a mess. But changes proposed by Christie’s “Fair Funding formula” would likely make matters worse. Those suggested by Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli would be an improvement, but would not fundamentally address the unique circumstances confronting Lakewood — specifically, the fact that the busing costs to transport 30,000 Orthodox children to private schools and the extraordinary $97,000 per-pupil cost to educate special education students at SCHI in Lakewood absorb about 40 percent of the school district’s $90 million budget.

No other towns in New Jersey have similar public school budget stresses attributable to the prevalence of private schools within their boundaries. Lakewood is a special circumstance. It requires an aid formula that takes the special circumstances into account.

MORE: Lakewood yeshiva enrollment up 20 percent

MORE: Lakewood committee stands from on free trash pickup 

•Offset the undue influence of the Orthodox community on the school board by requiring that a majority of its members have children in the public school system. Right now, the Orthodox members — all of whom send their children to private Orthodox schools — are in the majority, and decisions they make often are at odds with what is best for non-Orthodox public school students.

•Draft courtesy busing legislation that ends the practice in Lakewood of having separate bus runs to private schools for girls and boys, which dramatically increases the courtesy busing tab. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for segregated busing. The Legislature also should reconsider the cost benefit of any courtesy busing.

•Require that private schools be certified by the state in order to be eligible for state funding. Unless basic educational, facilities, health and safety standards are being met, the state should not be providing funding assistance.

•Establish specific criteria and spending caps for private special education schools such as SCHI, where the $97,000 per-student cost is far higher than similar private schools. What is the justification? The short answer: There is none. What SCHI says it needs to implement its program, SCHI gets, on the taxpayers’ dime. The indictment of the school’s director should provide extra incentive to make sure money is being spent wisely and for the stated purpose.

At the same time, the state must ensure that the students who are enrolled at SCHI are representative of the community as a whole. Historically, they have been almost exclusively Orthodox. The state needs to ensure that placements there by Lakewood’s child study teams are based entirely on need.

Some of the valid criticisms about the inequities in the school district have been wrongly directed toward state monitor Michael Azzara. There is only so much he can do. He is bound by existing rules and hamstrung by public officials who have shown no inclination to address the problems.

Editorials, letters to the editors and complaints at public meetings aren’t likely to change the trajectory in Lakewood. Putting direct pressure on lawmakers who can change the rules of the game and challenging in court some of the rules that allow the situation to persist offer the only hope for relief — and justice.

Write, email and phone Singer, Smith, Christie, Booker and Menendez, and demand action. Otherwise, expect more of the same — and worse.

 

 

Developer At it Again – Ramapo

 

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Viola condominium developer at it again: Matzav.com

 

http://preserve-ramapo.com/viola-condominium-developer-at-it-again-matzav-com/

 

This article appeared Jan. 30 on www.matzav.com 

The development has been shut down for months.  But its developer has been quite busy.

After the unprecedented stop work order issued by the Town of Ramapo last October against Viola Estates Condominium on Viola Road – the first such order resulting from neighbors fighting the town’s unrestrained overdevelopment – the developer of Viola Estates got to work.

First, he and his supporters pushed rabbonim, dayanim, askanim and other community leaders in an attempt to stop the neighbors who brought the lawsuit that led to the order.  But upon hearing the full story, these community leaders stopped their own involvement instead.

Then he sought to create some distance between himself and the project by bringing in another developer.  But he couldn’t find anyone to accept his terms.

So he tried to push his way back to the Town to allow him to continue work at the project.  But the acting building inspector was “unable to attend” such a meeting, according to the developer.

Now, in a new set of papers, he wants to bypass the building department by applying to the CDRC for a revised site plan, to be heard at its next meeting on February 9th.

Let’s remember the context:  the developer spot-zoned the project from 9 families to 44 in an agreement with neighbors that they would not fight his application if he in fact limited the development to 44 single-family units.  He then proceeded to build accessory apartments – illegal in his newly created zone and in brazen defiance of his agreement.  The neighbors met with him to settle the issue peacefully, but according to court documents, the developer said “he had built and intends to sell the dwelling units as single units with accessory apartments.”  When asked to abide by his original agreement with them, he “flatly and repeatedly refused.”

Under the guidance of daas Torah, the neighbors first complained to the Town, which ignored them, and then took the developer to court to enjoin him from building illegal apartments.  The court ordered a site inspection by the neighbors’ experts, whose report was jaw-dropping: not only had accessory apartments been built (with separate – and marked – boilers, heating units, plumbing and electric panels, and even kitchens where the plans called for walk-in closets), but preparations were also made for even more apartments to house a total of at least 176 families. At that point, the Town issued its order.

Now the developer is back.  In an application for a revised site plan, his attorney acknowledges that a stop work order was issued, but only for changes “not consistent with the site plan or with the Zoning Code,” instead of flagrant violations of law.

“The applicant made changes to the interior of the buildings,” the application continues, “that have been interpreted as preparing the buildings to host illegal accessory apartments” – no doubt a reference to the actual build-out of the apartments, the installation of separate building systems servicing them, and the visible marking of such systems as in fact supplying the accessory apartments.  “While the applicant does not agree that the buildings were to be sold as having these accessory apartments, it does acknowledge that the changes were built, [and] that they could have been used by an end user to create the apartments with minor effort,” such minor effort perhaps being to rent them as accessory apartments.

The developer’s application ignores inconvenient truths.  It fails to disclose to the CDRC, for example, that a court action had to be brought for the stop work order, which action is ongoing; that the order was issued only after the neighbors’ own experts brought the extent of the wrongdoing to the attention of the court (and not that it was issued by the Building Department “in response to its [own] findings at the site”); and most egregiously, that additional apartments were prepared beyond the accessory apartments which would have resulted in a density of almost 2000% of the original zoning.

The current application says that the developer wants to cure violations “as a showing of good faith” to continue building.  Is this like someone who wants to avoid punishment after getting caught stealing by returning the stolen goods as a sign of “good faith”?  As the neighbors’ attorney said in open court, “this is a fraud committed on the town, the neighbors and the Attorney General.  It’s encouraging that the town issued a stop work order.  But what they should have done is revoked his building permit.”

January 30, 2017 Matzav.com

Community Outreach – “ERCSD Funeral” The Destruction of Education in New York…

FROM RAMAPO WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/142179582651174/567958186739976/?notif_t=group_activity&notif_id=1480254294912353

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Community Outreach Center’s Hersh Horowitz Presides Over “ESCSD Funeral”

*Vote NO on the bond*

New York State Education Department Commissioner Mary-Ellen Elia toured East Ramapo today, campaigning for a $58 million capital improvements bond that worries longtime advocates for the public schools. Thanks to the New York State Senate’s failure to enact legislation appointing a veto-empowered monitor in the district, the scandal-ridden East Ramapo Board of Education can continue its wholesale dismembering of the district.

In reviewing where East Ramapo is now, and where it’s likely to be going, we must see the forest for the trees. While the bond would provide short-term assistance in the form of crucial building improvements, public school advocates worry that is just a stepping stone to a long-term plan of selling district buildings to yeshivas.

As it stands now, the outlook for East Ramapo is woefully dim. The class-action civil rights lawsuit filed against board members in 2012 has been voluntarily withdrawn with prejudice; the board members who were alleged to have facilitated unconstitutional policies and illegal sales of schools will not be held accountable for those alleged actions. The “monitor” on the ground now has no veto power – and his contract is due to expire before implementations of bond proposals, should the bond pass, even commence. The stage is set for the taxpayers to fund, via capital improvements, the eventual sale of more school buildings, a cruel irony that only this Board of Education could serve up.

Meanwhile, thousands of students in Hasidic yeshivas are systemically denied a sound basic education. The New York State Education Department, ultimately subordinate to Governor Cuomo, has turned a blind eye to the educational neglect that runs rampant in Ramapo. What’s worse is these schools are nonetheless receiving tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds – on the local, state and Federal level. As we covered last week, third- and fourth-generation Americans in the Hasidic community are functionally illiterate in English. This despite tens of millions of dollars in Title funding purported to be used for the sole purpose of teaching English!

All of this Title funding flows through and is disbursed by the Community Outreach Center, run by Rabbi Hersh Horowitz.

If any picture says a thousand words, it’s the one below. We see Commissioner Elia, “pitching” the no-strings-attached $58 million bond to a room full of local yeshiva leaders. And at the speaker’s podium, as if eulogizing the public schools and giving a victory speech for yeshivas, is none other than Rabbi Hersh Horowitz.

Our series of articles on the Community Outreach Center and Rabbi Horowitz may be viewed here:

https://www.facebook.com/146207698912716/photos/a.146396025560550.1073741828.146207698912716/570739553126193/?type=3

https://www.facebook.com/146207698912716/photos/a.146396025560550.1073741828.146207698912716/570421383158010/?type=3

https://www.facebook.com/146207698912716/photos/a.146396025560550.1073741828.146207698912716/569922453207903/?type=3

What if All non-Hasidic Moved out of New York State? Who Would Pay for Services? Where would the Taxes Come From?

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http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/Religious-Schools-Homes-Ramapo-New-York-Rockland-County–402288745.html

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/Religious-Schools-Homes-Ramapo-New-York-Rockland-County–402288745.html

I-Team: Homes in NY Town Taken Over for Religious Schooling, Residents Say

Residents in the Rockland County town of Ramapo claim town officials are allowing single-family homes on small residential lots to be turned into religious schools with little or no public notice.

Suffern resident Annette Doerr said she has been battling the conversion of a home next door into an ultra-Orthodox school for several years. Doerr told the I-Team she believes there are more than 200 students in the four-bedroom house but has been unable to get specific information.

“It’s six days a week,” she said. “Whenever they’re on recess, we can’t be outside.”

“It’s too dangerous, it’s too dense,” she added. “The home was meant for a family.”

The property manager declined to tell the I-Team how many students attend the school.

Minna Greenbaum, another Suffern resident, said there are areas where almost every property on a block is a school or religious institution.

“The town turns a blind eye,” she said. “Everything is allowed.”

Residents said they are not opposed to schools if there is sufficient property to accommodate the students and buses safely.

Resident Peter Katz recently filed a lawsuit over a school that’s being developed on a nearby lot.

“A friend of mine owned this house, sold it to someone, and the very next thing, I discovered by accident it’s being converted to a school,” Katz said. “There was no public notice.”

Members of the Spring Valley Fire Department, which responds to emergency calls in the town of Ramapo, said they are especially concerned about modular trailers being moved onto residential lots as classrooms to accommodate students.

“We don’t even get the fire plans, and that’s the biggest thing,” said Captain Justin Schwartz. “It gets approved without us saying so. It’s a crime.”

The town of Ramapo passed a law limiting the use of “temporary” trailers to a maximum of two years. Democratic Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski said town officials have allowed the proliferation of “permanent” trailers to be used without proper enforcement.

He said he believes the New York Department of State should take over Ramapo’s building department.

“This is a willful, systemic ignoring of the law by those that are in charge, and when you have that, the State needs to step in,” he said.

Michael Klein, attorney for the town of Ramapo, told the I-Team that schools with permits are safe.

“The town of Ramapo will not issue a permission of occupancy permitting property to be used as a school unless it meets all fire and building codes,” he said.

“Whether people like the growing size of the community and the need to address the growing population, that’s a quality of life issue and people have different views of that,” he added.

Census figures for 2015 to 2016 showed there are 24,000 non-public school students in the East Ramapo school district and 8,500 public school students.