HASC Staff Fighting Return Of Disgraced Exec

Supporters of camp for children with special needs call board action corrupt.

04/12/11
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Seven and a half years after being forced to step down as the top executive of the Hebrew Academy for Special Needs (HASC) amid allegations of serious financial improprieties on his part, Bernard Moshe Kahn of Brooklyn is back — but not without a fight from some of the organization’s most dedicated staff and supporters.

Citing a settlement agreement under the auspices of the Beth Din of America, an affiliate of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the HASC board of directors is set to make Kahn director of strategic planning of the charitable organization May 1, at a salary of $180,000 a year, despite the extraordinary efforts of a number of top administrators, staff, donors and advocates to block his reappointment.

Those opposing the move view it as an unethical, if not unlawful, power play on the part of Kahn and the seven-member board, composed primarily of his friends and relatives.

A Feb. 21 letter from nine of the top professional staff members at Camp HASC, which operates a highly praised Catskills summer program for several hundred physically and mentally impaired children and adults, said they were “bewildered and chagrined at the course of events leading up to the return of Moshe Kahn to the administration of HASC Inc.”

They asked the members of the board of directors to “reconsider their plans and fulfill the charge that they have legally accepted” to lead the charity with “transparence and prudence” and not to “use their role for the personal aggrandizement of any person,” a clear reference to Kahn.

The letter, which went unanswered according to staff members, was signed by the two head counselors, camp rabbi, staff psychologists and program directors of the camp. They said that “as the professionals who actually run the camp program, we find ourselves torn between our love of the program, its campers and staff, and our utter dissatisfaction with the lay leadership’s decision to turn back the clock to the darkest time in the camp’s history.”

That reference is to 2003, when as first reported in The Jewish Week at the time, a forensic audit of Camp HASC’s records found that Kahn “used more than $1 million in funds from the government-supported charitable organization for personal and other improper expenses, including lavish spending, such as a sheva brachot wedding party for his daughter, maintaining a previously unknown HASC bank account, and keeping no-show employees on the payroll.”

As a result, he was forced to step down, rather than face legal charges, after more than 30 years of involvement with the Brooklyn-based institution his family founded and directed.
“Even when he was given the benefit of the doubt” over every questionable transaction, when interviewed by the forensic accountant and board members, it was determined that Kahn had expended “at least $1.4 million,” one insider said, adding “that was only going back less than 10 years.”

A number of key camp staff left at the time, disillusioned by the scandal.

Since then, close observers say, the camp has rebuilt its reputation and its physical campus, thriving under the direction of Moshe Kahn’s brother, Shmiel Kahn, who has been lauded for his integrity and financial responsibility.

This Time ‘Far Worse’

But Moshe Kahn has wanted to come back to work at HASC, those close to the situation say, and was able to act behind the scenes to bring in board members who would support his goal. Several sources said that under Barry Hertz, the current chairman, board members were asked to sign a statement agreeing to bring back Moshe Kahn. Those who refused were forced off the board, the sources said.

In a signed Feb. 7 letter to the board, 10 young professionals who described themselves as representatives of Team HASC, a volunteer group of dedicated advocates of and fundraisers for the camp, wrote that the current situation is “far worse” than when Moshe Kahn had to resign his post in 2003.

“Last time the board took on corruption and rid it from our midst,” they wrote. “This time the corruption took on the board and joined forces.”

Hertz was contacted by The Jewish Week but directed all inquiries to Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations consultant recently hired by the board.

Sheinkopf confirmed that Moshe Kahn’s reinstatement was approved by the board and begins May 1, and that for the past year Kahn was paid $10,000 a month as a consultant. He noted that “this job does not involve financial management and has already been approved by the HASC board.”

He also confirmed that a HASC-owned house is being built for Moshe Kahn’s use across the street from camp property.

Sheinkopf said “all of the beth din work was done under RCA rules. To suggest otherwise smears the credibility of the RCA and its judicial process.

“There was never a civil or rabbinical finding of fault,” he added. “Moshe Kahn has decades of experience, which now, after a long and fair process, will be available to HASC. The entire process has been open, nothing has been hidden.”

But those who wrote letters of complaint to the board said they remain in the dark regarding board decisions, asserting that there was no response from the board to their charges and inquiries.

Several rabbis involved with the RCA say their understanding was that the parties to the beth din had no actual dispute to settle regarding the ethics of whether or not to rehire Moshe Kahn, since the agreement reached was between Hertz, representing a board that wanted Moshe Kahn back, and Kahn himself.

Shlomo Perl, a HASC board member and in-law of Moshe Kahn, told The Jewish Week that “the beth din cleared all things against him,” referring to Kahn.

Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of the Beth Din of America, said all cases are confidential and would not discuss the matter.

But insiders say the HASC board is “seeking to hide under the shield of the RCA,” as one rabbi put it, and that the beth din issued no ruling and was not asked to pass judgment on Kahn’s guilt or innocence; it simply recognized that the two parties had reached a settlement between themselves.

Donors Feel Shame

The very fact that Camp HASC is so admired for its compassionate care of severely challenged children makes those involved with its work — supporters and employees alike — reluctant to criticize publicly those they consider guilty of improper behavior so as not to jeopardize the summer camp program.

But reports of Moshe Kahn’s impending return as an employee has created a storm of protest from within HASC’s ranks and has seriously hampered fundraising efforts.

The group known as Team HASC raised more than $200,000 for the organization this year through participation by 74 of its members in a marathon in Miami. But they put all of their future fundraising efforts on hold after learning of the “dishonorable and shameful” reappointment of Moshe Kahn, according to their Feb. 7 letter written to the HASC board of directors.

The letter says the team has gone from “proudly devoted” to HASC to feeling shame and embarrassment, and is now seeking to “spread the message that HASC Inc. no longer deserves the support of the worldwide Jewish community. Honesty and integrity are above all else.”

Team HASC said it plans to inform all 2,700 of its donors of the “deceit” leading up to Moshe Kahn’s reinstatement, apologize for asking for their support for an “immoral” cause and pledge to work to support special-needs children “via another organization that is lawful and trustworthy.”

The letter is signed by 10 Team HASC members from New York, Florida, Minnesota and Toronto.

HASC board spokesman Sheinkopf said that “donations are up,” though he gave no statistics. As for criticism leveled at the board from former advocates, he said: “We believe that these supporters over time will return.”

Esty Edell of Toronto, who has two sons who were counselors at Camp HASC and met their future wives there, said she had planned to host a major fundraiser for the camp, but could not generate interest among her usual constituents.

Finally, her friends and colleagues acknowledged that the reason for their reluctance was their concern about the “unsettling” situation at HASC, she recalled.

“There has to be a feeling of trust when I go to friends to ask for their support” for charitable causes, said Edell, who noted that she recently hosted an event that raised a considerable sum for an association for mentally and physically challenged children in Israel.

She said she canceled her plans for the HASC fundraising dinner.

“I didn’t want to be involved in a situation where people don’t have that trust,” she said. “It’s very sad because in the end, the children lose out.”

E-mail: Gary@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

02/14/2014 - 05:21

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As an out of town parent who sends her child to camp hasc and has to beg, borrow and plead for scholarship for the $8500- it cost for the "out of town" special needs child, I am at a loss for Hasc. How can you do this to my child who so desperately needs you and team hasc how can you tell ppl not to give to help ppl like us who desperately need HASC.
What about my child???

I feel for you. The board and this man are going to severely damage a what has otherwise been viewed by all as a wonderful charity and a cause that has truly embraced the most loving behaviours espoused by Judaism and all major religions. For you to be asked to pay that kind of money while these (I want to say fools but that is too kind of a word) work to reinstate such a thief is just unconscionable. The sad thing is like in the case of another major New York Jewish charity, a few pompous and manipulative people, like wolves smell money and try to make it their own. In the end those in need suffer, many loose faith in the cause and even the religious institutions that stand so proudly behind them. what happened to "love others as you love yourself" and "thou shall not steal" ? It seems to me that many of the same religious authorities that interpret so much else in Judaism to mean what they want it to and not what it says (despite their faith that the Torah is flawless) are often ready to "turn the cheek" (not a Jewish concept) when it comes to supporting their cronies, I am proud of the HASC Rabbis who spoke up.... you are the last chance of saving the reputation of this organisation - Please fight a good battle to stop this insanity and remove anyone on the board who support such a man. As a Jewish teenager I can not tell you how often I was taught by the religious leadership that we must go beyond strict law and and consider marit eyin (the appearance of things) but of course once again compromise is in order to suite the needs of this leadership. Shame on them.

Consider a Facebook page with a link to this article and a way to offer support. I for one hope to find it and would like to give some token to help people like you and your son, but please consider sending him somewhere else. We, the people need to take these individuals down. If not they will continue to use charities as their personal piggy banks and to hurt the intended recipients of the charity that pays their salaries and the little extra they, put into their pockets - and that's not kosher !

I read Barry’s reply; he is still beating around the bush and not answering the tough question. Was the agreement between BMK and the HASC board a psak by the RCA beis din or was it an in house agreement between HERTZ and BMK to drop all charges and beis din just signed it? It’s obvious from his words that the latter is correct

The battle is only starting; no one is staying silent. Over 1300 people are already involved in a Facebook group and the first video has been produced: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9N1GYmOg-k

More on the way.

Is Moshe Kahn the tip of the iceberg of financial shenanigans at HASC? Perhaps there are others - employees, management, board members treating the organization as a cash cow for themselves? Maybe there needs to be a financial investigation of the whole organization.

It's hard to believe that HASC would risk their reputation by re-hiring a known crook and embezzler. And who is paying the bill for their newly PR mavin, Hank Shenkoff, if not for more misused charity money which would be better used serving their needy clientele.

The charity biz is a great business. The enormous proliferation of charities, many with duplicate or overlapping purposes strongly indicates that there is a good livelihood to be made by those at the top. And that's what it often comes down to. Such people self-righteously believe they are performing G-d's work and that doing so entitles them to satisfy their more profane desires. Caceat emptor! All donors should be aware when giving that there is no guarantee of: good governance, fair (not egregious) compensation, etc. It all boils down to Jews ripping off Jews.

I thought it was bad enough when Team Hasc was formed and used the same format and vibrate on their material that clearly was taken from Team Lifeline. This shows the true colors of Hascs leadership.

Ahh... and you propose that Team Lifeline originated the idea of charity marathon running? If you don't see beyond the orthodox world, perhaps, but hundreds of charities have been doing charity marathon running for many years, using the "Team XXXXX" format. Chai Lifeline appropriately copied the good idea and others will continue that in the future. YACHAD has the identical idea, with their Team YACHAD in the very same marathon. Let all those who believe in good organizations use solid fundraising formats to raise funds.

Good point. Agreed

what on earth does that have to do with the article? and who cares if they used the same format? they are raising money for very different causes...this has nothing to do with the leadership and with the article. You're so foolish.

All members of the current board were selected by m Kahn. Are they there to enable him to continue what he did in the past?

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