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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Kiryas Joel and United Monroe Agree to Amicable Divorce

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http://www.vosizneias.com/272572/2017/06/18/orange-county-ny-in-historic-agreement-kj-and-united-monroe-to-split-into-separate-entities/

Orange County, NY – In Historic Agreement, KJ And United Monroe To Split Into Separate Entities

Orange County, NY – In a development that could end years of costly legal battles, Kiryas Joel and representatives of the United Monroe citizens group have agreed to the equivalent of an amicable divorce, splitting the Village of Kiryas Joel off into a separate town that would include an unspecified amount of additional acreage to accommodate future growth.

The agreement was announced on Friday night on United Monroe’s Facebook page and would end three years of bitter infighting that resulted when Kiryas Joel announced its plan to annex more than several hundred acres of neighboring land into the village.

The new town would be the first created in New York State in 35 years, with a revised map of the proposed unnamed town to be provided to county lawmakers this week, reported The Times Herald Record

The exact details of the agreement, the result of two months of hush-hush negotiations, have yet to be disclosed, but United Monroe said that new acreage allotted to Kiryas Joel would be considerably less than the 382 acres specified in the village’s latest petition.

The plan still needs to pass muster with both the county legislature and voters in the Town of Monroe. Once that hurdle has been cleared, the issue would be included on the ballot in the upcoming November 7th election.

United Monroe’s Facebook post generated dozens of comments, with the group blaming Kiryas Joel for refusing to negotiate a separation for the past three years and noting that spinning the village off into a new entity would remove Kiryas Joel’s influence in matters concerning Monroe residents.

Both Emily Convers, head of United Monroe, and Kiryas Joel administrator Gedalya Szegedin, expressed their appreciation to all parties involved for their efforts in reaching an equitable compromise.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Lakewood School District Hijacked by the Ultra-Orthodox – The Kids Are Fighting Back!!

DO YOU WONDER WHY ANTI-SEMITISM EXISTS IN THE WORLD? THE CHILD VICTIMS OF RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM.

http://www.thelakewoodscoop.com/news/2017/05/breaking-photo-lakewood-high-school-students-take-to-the-streets-in-protest-over-teacher-job-cuts.html

BREAKING VIDEO & PHOTOS: Lakewood High School students take to the streets in protest over teacher job cuts

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.

 

 

A School for Special Needs Children and a Rabbi without a Conscience – Indefensible

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Lakewood rabbi pleads not guilty to stealing public funds from special needs school

NEW BRUNSWICK — A Lakewood rabbi who runs a school for children with developmental disabilities pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of stealing public funds for personal use.

Osher Eisemann, 60, the founder and director of the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence in Lakewood, is accused of using a private fundraising nonprofit for the school to launder $630,000 in public tuition funds.

He was indicted last month on charges including theft, money laundering, corporate misconduct and misuses of government funds.

Eisemann, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges before Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca in Middlesex County.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson told Bucca the state has offered a plea deal that would require a prison sentence of five years in exchange for Eisemann admitting to a second-degree charge of theft by unlawful taking. As part of the plea deal, Eisemann would also pay restitution, Robinson said.

Eisemann, of Lakewood, faces up to 15 years in state prison on the charges.

An attorney representing Eisemann, Lee Vartan, declined to comment after the brief court hearing. However, Vartan maintained his client’s innocence in a previous statement given to NJ Advance Media.

“Rabbi Eisemann has never taken any SCHI funds for his personal use, and we strongly deny that there was any ill intent in the use of SCHI funds,” Vartan said in the statement. “We look forward to the complete exoneration of both SCHI and Rabbi Eisemann in this investigation.”

In Lakewood, new scrutiny on ‘business as usual’ | Di Ionno

Schools, zoning, poverty rate pose questions about town powers

SCHI receives $1.8 million a month in public tuition from the Lakewood School District to teach students with special needs. Authorities said Eisemann took $430,000 of that money for a personal business venture, the clothing company TAZ Apparel, LLC.

Authorities said Eisemann also laundered an additional $200,000 of the funds in a scheme “intended to make it appear that he was repaying debts he owed to the school using personal funds.”

SCHI officials previously called the attorney general’s investigation “baseless” and said the school has a long history of providing a “superior level of services to meet the unique needs of severely-disabled, medically fragile, and socially-emotionally challenged children and youth adults.”

An attorney representing SCHI, Robert Rabinowitz, declined to comment after Monday’s arraignment.

Attorney General spokesman Peter Aseltine said the arraignment was held in Middlesex County because three of the districts that send children to SCHI are in the county: Highland Park, Edison and Monroe.

Eisemann is scheduled to be back in court on June 12.

Betsy DeVos and Agudath Israel – The Irony of a One Woman Show and the Fall of Education

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Mar 8

A truly historic meeting today at U.S. Dept of Education with the Secretary and Agudath Israel representatives.

DeVos praises Orthodox Jewish group that strongly backs public funding for religious schools

https://www.washingtonpost.com

DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America, which is based in New York and has active branches in more than 25 states, including Texas, Florida, California, Maryland and New Jersey. Its leaders have successfully lobbied for using public taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious schools in several states.

In a statement released Wednesday, March 8, 2017, about the meeting at the Education Department with Agudath Israel leaders, DeVos said:

I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today’s discussion.

I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family’s income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education.

DeVos and President Trump have made clear that expanding school choice is an education policy priority.  The administration is believed to be considering a new federal school-choice program, likely a tax credit scholarship program that would offer individuals and corporations incentives to donate money to help families pay for tuition and other educational needs at private and religious schools. There is now is one federally funded voucher program, in Washington D.C., expected to be expanded by the Trump administration.

Trump has said he wants to spend $20 billion to promote school choice, while DeVos has spent decades advocating for charter schools and voucher/tax credit programs. A billionaire from Michigan, DeVos and her family have spent millions of dollars to support religious schools. In 2015, she said in a speech that traditional public education is “a dead end,” and her critics say that she wants to privatize public education, a departure from any previous U.S. administration.

Last week, Trump and DeVos made their first official joint trip to a school — a Catholic school in Florida. It was the first official school trip for Trump, and the first time a U.S. president had visited a Catholic school since Ronald Reagan visited St. Agatha Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Detroit on Oct. 10, 1984, years after he was elected.

In New York, Agudath Israel has been instrumental in winning state funds for Jewish schools, and has praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for ensuring that millions of dollars in state funds would be spent for security and other services for these schools. On March 5, Cuomo announced a new “New York-Israel Commission” to strengthen economic and cultural ties between New York and Israel, and among the members is Sol Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel.

Although Agudath Israel of America does not ordinarily advocate for Cabinet members, it urged its supporters to lobby the Senate to confirm DeVos, with whom it has worked for years on school-choice issues. When she was nominated as education secretary by then-president-elect Trump, the group put a story on its website saying in part:

Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel’s board of trustees, expressed his enthusiastic support for Mrs. DeVos’s nomination. “I have had some excellent discussions with Betsy DeVos,” Mr. Werdiger said. “She is intelligent, compassionate and effective. President-elect Trump has chosen wisely.”

The organization supported the Hasidic Jews who took control of the school board in East Ramapo, N.Y., more than a decade ago and were accused by state officials of financial mismanagement that harmed the public schools in the district but helped the private Jewish schools. In 2015, Agudath Israel lobbied against a bill in the state legislature that sought to appoint an overseer for the school board, and despite support for the bill from Cuomo and the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, it didn’t pass in the state Senate. In 2016, a compromise bill passed that provided more state money for public schools but did not include a state-appointed board monitor.

The Education Department issued a release Wednesday about the meeting between DeVos and Agudath leaders. Here’s the complete text:

This morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America about her commitment to supporting all educational opportunities, the importance of IDEA and higher education.

Agudath leaders thanked the Secretary for her leadership and expressed their desire to work closely with her to ensure their schools and community members have access to quality educational opportunities that respect their religion.

After the meeting, Secretary DeVos issued the following statement:

“I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today’s discussion.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family’s income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education.”

Attendees included:

Sol Werdiger, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Federal Affairs, Washington Director and Counsel

Rabbi A. D. Motzen, National Director of State Relations

And other members of Agudath Israel of America

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made school “choice” a policy priority, met on Wednesday with leaders of an Orthodox Jewish group that has been instrumental in pushing voucher programs across the country. She praised their “leadership and commitment” in helping communities secure schools that “meet the academic and religious needs of their families” and said she looks forward to working with them.

FBI Probe – E-Rate, Stating the Obvious

KJRaids ABC

How Could Wrongdoing Not Be Found, DA Zugibe?

LM Contributor

Anyone familiar with the ultra-Orthodox community would know that the children are not permitted to use the internet. They are barely permitted to use a library, except per-say one that has a wealth of religious information, texts, commentaries, and perhaps (perhaps) articles of recent scholars. But, only those limited to religion.

There is no math research. There is no science research. There is no learning about the moon and the stars and NASA on the sites available for such study. There is no internet access to Google and Yahoo and all of the many sites that non-ultra-Orthodox children use when they want to ask a question or find out information or G-d forbid sneak some peak at illicit pictures.

CHILDREN ARE DENIED ACCESS TO COMPUTERS AND THE INTERNET, DA ZUGIBE! 

Ultra-Orthodox children do not use websites. They do not read “online” newspapers. Anyone who makes claims to the contrary is simply telling a broad untruth. The percentage of e-rate dollars scattered throughout the ultra-Orthodox community is simply not supported by the number of children within that community permitted to use those dollars for education…. roughly… ZERO!!! Continue reading