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.
A School District Whose Children Have Been Raped of an Education and $3M in State Aid
It does not matter in East Ramapo whether you are Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular, Hispanic, Black, White, or Green because all of East Ramapo’s children have been deprived of an education.
In the public schools in East Ramapo despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and activists the resources have been scarce and the schools in disrepair, leaving the public school children to study without proper textbooks, in classrooms known to leak during rainstorms. The schools of that district barely offer core classes. There are few art classes, if any and music is a luxury.
The public schools in East Ramapo, once the best in the State, lack the resources necessary to provide an education consistent with New York State mandates. Funding is grossly inadequate and the Board of Education, comprised in disproportionate part of ultra-Orthodox men blames the State.
There is no acknowledgement on the part of the Trustees of the East Ramapo Board of Education and their spokespeople that money has been siphoned off for years for the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox religious education. The premise has been that there are more private school, Yeshiva educated children and more resources should be provided for their edcuation. Separation of Church and State be damned.
In contrast the private Yeshivas, funded with public taxpayer money, have the resources but the children are deprived an education by an establishment which actively chains them to functional illiteracy, mathematical ignorance and a non-science based religious education… in Yiddish. Separation of Church and State, an unknown concept.
Presently there is a public meeting at Rockland Community College, located in East Ramapo intended to explain how $3M in New York State aid will be allocated. Perhaps Church and State can walk on separate sides of the road….
Lohud reported on September 27, 2016
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6
The state education commissioner has approved the East Ramapo school district’s plan for using $3 million in state aid to create universal full-day kindergarten and restore arts programs in grades K-6, among other initiatives.
Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday that she had given her blessing to the plan, and also said she would join state-appointed monitors Charles Szuberla and John Sipple at a public meeting to discuss the initiatives at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, 145 College Road, Ramapo.
Full-day kindergarten and other programs will start Oct. 6, according to a district spokesperson.
The district conducted its own public hearing to receive community input on the expenditure plan on Sept. 7. The school board approved the plan on Sept. 13 and it was submitted to Elia on Sept. 20.
“These plans represent the district’s path forward to ensure progress continues and to ensure the educational rights of every East Ramapo student are met,” Commissioner Elia said in a statement. “Chuck Szuberla, John Sipple and Superintendent Wortham have worked as quickly as possible to put a long-term strategic academic and fiscal improvement plan in place that is both thorough and thoughtful. It continues the work already done to repair the trust of the East Ramapo community, while recognizing there is still work to do.”
The $3 million in supplemental funding was approved under a state oversight law that required the development of the strategic academic plan, as well as a comprehensive expenditure plan, in consultation with Szuberla.
In 2012, East Ramapo went from full-day to half-day kindergarten amid $14 million worth of budget cuts. Last year, two sections were added. Four new full-day kindergarten classes were included in the district’s $224 million budget approved by voters in May.
Here’s what’s being proposed for the $3 million:
$1.2 million to hire six monolingual kindergarten teachers and four bilingual kindergarten teachers.
Up to 11 sections of full-day kindergarten would be created, depending upon the number of children who enroll.
The bulk of kindergarten funding, $670,000, would go towards salaries, while the remainder would cover classroom materials, instructional technology and building adjustments to accommodate new classes.
Restoring art, music, dance and theater classes for students in grades K-6 will cost around $1.7 million.
The district aims to hire 12 teachers for arts instruction, the majority of whom were previously laid off and are on the preferred eligibility list (PELL).
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.
“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.”
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.”
ELM STREET, ROCKLAND COUNTY – NOT AFFORDABLE HOUSING, BELOW FAIR-MARKET INVESTMENT STEALS!
In 2011, the Ramapo Local Development Corp (think Christopher St. Lawrence and Aaron Troodler, et.al. SEC complaint) began selling units in a housing project referred to in social circles as the “Rockland Affordable Housing” project. The development was allegedly intended to be purchased by people who wanted homes but could not afford them and by design the target buyer was ultra-Orthodox. What in public was billed as affordable housing in private was nothing more than below market investment properties which would eventually yield buyers profits in the millions when they decided to sell.
The homes were purchased in large part by numerous LLC’s, many of which were and continue to be untraceable non-profits and tax-exempt entities. The homes were not purchased by the downtrodden.
One of the names among the owners is the family of Yossi Gestetner who lives in one of the Elm Street properties. He is one of the founders of OJPAC, a Political Action Committee heavily involved in endorsing the same corruption that makes up the fabric of Rockland County’s ultra-Orthodox Jewry, particularly as it connects to the Borough Park community. His ties to Dov Hiking and Boro Park’s elite Shomrim are no secret.
It also comes as no surprise that David and Naomi Bodner were among the first “buyers” of the property when the LDC started selling it. You know. The same Bodners who are involved with Marty Huberfeld and Platinum Parnters. The same Bodners who have more money than they could spend in a century of generations of lifetimes, much of it we surmise was amassed in less than savory transactions.
For your review we have included the SEC Complaint against Christopher St. Lawrence and his accomplices naming the Elm Street properties voraciously. We have also included articles picked up by Failed Messiah and a number of others.
This Elm Street properties are one family of the CSL LDC properties among many that heavily tie Rockland County’s Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox community (and its leaders) to Boro Park, and to some of New York’s dirtier politics. They also tie Rockland County to family Bodner and many of its family foundations. We expect there are more treasures to be found beyond what has been named over the years.
RAMAPO — A Rockland County housing agency representing the federal government is reviewing Ramapo’s affordable-housing project on Elm Street, based on a complaint that investors bought up most of 24 units already sold, for potential rental properties.
Bruce Levine, a former legislator and Spring Valley village attorney, also sent his complaint to the state Comptroller’s Office and Attorney General’s Office. Levine asked for an investigation into what he called “abuses and illegalities” by Ramapo and its quasi-economic development agency, the Ramapo Local Development Corp.
The corporate ownership and condominium rentals could jeopardize $1.44 million from the state and $200,000 from the federal government aimed at lowering the cost of the units, which were priced at $349,000 for the first 48 units.
The complaint states that County Clerk’s Office records show 17 of approximately 24 condominiums already sold have been purchased by limited liability companies, a business entity that’s not a corporation.
Only seven units sold so far by the Ramapo Local Development Corp. are owned by people, the complaint says. Five of those individuals gave Brooklyn addresses, one signed was by an LLC owner in Ramapo, and one gave a Monsey address.
Black Hats and Coats Don’t Scare an Infant but Black Nurses do?
This article was taken from the new Preserve Ramapo website which printed it initially from the Rockland County Times. We are reprinting it here because we are not only curious about the relationship between Hamaspik and Accucare but also because we find the entire series of events somewhat unsettling.
Hamaspik accused of dismissing nurses because of “dark skin”
BY JOEL GROSSBARTH
Two women have filed racial discrimination claims with the New York State Division of Human Rights stemming from their employment with a Kiryas Joel child. Tiffany Clemoms and Lillian Adoyo, both African-American nurses, claim that they were dismissed from caring from a child in Kiryas Joel based solely on the color of their skin.
According to papers obtained by The Rockland County Times, Clemons and Adoyo, both Licensed Practical Nurses, were dismissed from caring for a disabled child in the highly religious Jewish community because the child was frightened and scared of the nurses’ “dark skin.”
According to the claimants’ attorney Jason Sona, Esq., the disabled child’s care was managed by Hamaspik of Orange County. Hamaspik is an organization that provides and coordinated care for people with development and intellectual disabilities. Hamaspik hired the claimant’s employer Accucare Nursing and Home Care of Nanuet, New York. The nurses were then assigned to the care of the disabled child.
According to the claim, the nurses would visit the child’s home in Kiryas Joel and provide the necessary nursing care. After a few visits, the child’s mother allegedly contacted Accucare and stated that no other black nurses should be sent to care for her child.
Accucare refused the request, stating that race could not be a factor in determining which nurses treated a patient. After many requests to have the nurse removed because “her dark skin color would frighten the baby,” Accucare, and the two nurses, were fired by Hamaspik.
A scathing Report By the Department of State – Zoning Violations
We have attached hereto a document that we are hoping will get shared. It delineates violations by East Ramapo residents, in large part within the ultra-Orthodox community which have the potential to put school children at risk. It exemplifies a criticism of a pattern and practice of behavior within the community that feels itself immune from adhering to zoning codes. We ask that you read and share.
The corruption in Ramapo, New York is not unique to that town and not unique to the ultra-orthodox of Monsey, of New Square, of Kaisar, of Lakewood, of Jefferson Township… need we list more?
The children are most at risk. This really should be a “save the children” campaign foundational document. Must we wait until tragedy strikes?
Zugibe initially defended Beck when asked whether his badge would be revoked.
“His efforts during the past eight years have enabled my prosecutors to build trust within these highly insular communities, resulting in greater reporting of criminal conduct by residents, including incidents of sexual abuse,” Zugibe said.
Rabbi Zalman Beck and state Sen. Malcolm Smith outside L’chaim Manor in Monsey on April 26, 2012. They would be joined by FBI cooperator Moses Stern. Zugibe declined to provide Beck’s job description, any qualifications he possessed or any permissible uses of the badge.
“Rabbi Beck has also made great strides in educating the communities to ensure compliance with our laws. He has proven to be a respected and effective asset to law enforcement in Rockland County.”
Beck is said to work behind-the-scenes, helping political campaigns. For instance, he helped state Sen. David Carlucci gain support in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Beck and Moses Stern
It remains unclear why Beck helped Moses Stern, an FBI criminal cooperator, in the Smith sting.
Beck introduced Stern to Smith and Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, who was convicted of selling her vote on a proposed community center and catering hall. Stern had defrauded Citigroup out of $126 million and was working with the government, hoping to shave time off a potential 455-year prison sentence.
Beck also vouched for Stern the night before Stern met with state Sen. David Carlucci in 2013, attempting to gain funding for a project during the sting. Carlucci, instead, referred Stern to the regional economic development committee, according to Politico, which covered Carlucci’s testimony in January 2015.
Federal court records show Stern provided Smith $27,000 in straw donor checks in 2012, including checks from Joseph and Esther Markowtiz of Monsey and one from an FBI account. Beck obtained at least some of the checks, prosecutors said at Smith’s sentencing.
“Rabbi Beck is the guy who got the straw donor checks,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Bloom at the sentencing. “He’s the guy who went out and got them. That’s on tape.”
Sen. Carlucci’s testimony
Carlucci testified during Smith’s trial that Beck called him the night before he met with Stern in February 2013 to vouch for Stern.
“I don’t remember the specifics, but in general, it was that he was a good person, a stand-up character, and if there was any way that I could be helpful to him, I should be,” Carlucci testified.
Beck assisted Carlucci’s 2010 campaign, helping him get out the vote in the Orthodox Jewish community and put up lawn signs, Carlucci testified.
The Journal News/lohud.com learned of the allegations against Beck while investigating the New York Jewish Communications Channel, an Orthodox Jewish radio show and communications network through which the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI targeted politicians seeking the ultra-Orthodox bloc vote.
Stern used the show and its literature to gain credibility with FBI targets, at least some of whom were given straw donations by Joseph Markowitz, who is listed as registering the corporation with the state, and his wife Esther.
The NYJCC claimed to be a major force in the 2010 elections, representing a bloc of over 100,000 Jewish voters and acting as a channel for elected officials to communicate with the Jewish community.
It’s unclear how the Markowitzes are involved in the Smith sting and whether they were knowingly assisting the government.
Along with Smith, they are listed as donating to ex-New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, Rockland Family Court Judge Sherri Eisenpress’ 2011 campaign and to Eric Schneiderman, both before and after Schneiderman, a former state senator, was elected state attorney general. All four were radio guests. Halloran was also convicted in the sting. Like Smith, he received a donation from an FBI account, court records show.
Earlier this month, The Journal News reported that Stern testified he helped elect Eisenpress by using her money to bankroll an illegal campaign finance scheme and by bribing a public official.
Her campaign has denied any wrongdoing and Zugibe has said an investigation found no evidence of criminality. Beck was a supporter of Eisenpress’ campaign.
A court order still bars the media and public from seeing much of the material prosecutors turned over to the defense regarding the Smith sting operation. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas issued the protective order at prosecutors’ request in 2013, prohibiting the release of records, including many conversations between Stern and Beck that weren’t entered into evidence. Stern has helped the FBI investigate more than 30 other targets.
Releasing the material could jeopardize “ongoing investigations into potentially serious criminal conduct,” he wrote.