Rabbi David Cohen, who has a long history with the scandal-plagued Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has resigned from his current job as CEO of Chevra Hatzalah. The resignation follows reports that investigators are probing whether he was involved in a kickback scheme at Met Council.
Chevra Hatzalah coordinates operations for a network of smaller volunteer Haztalah volunteer ambulance chapters in the area.
“He submitted his resignation on Sept. 28, and we accepted his resignation yesterday,” David Shipper, an attorney for Hatzalah and board member, told The Jewish Week Monday He said Rabbi Cohen had been hired as CEO of the organization in 2008.
The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, said Rabbi Cohen, who until August was a paid consultant to Met Council and was the top executive there until 1992, is under investigation by the same state authorities probing alleged financial wrongdoing by Rabbi Cohen’s successor at Met Council, William Rapfogel.
But Shipper stressed that the investigation does not involve Hatzalah. “There is no evidence to believe that there are any issues involving Rabbi Cohen during his tenure at Hatzalah,” he said. According to the most recent forms filed with the IRS, from 2011, Hatzalah paid the rabbi $183,667 that year.
Rapfogel was fired by Met Council on Aug. 12 following a whistleblower’s letter to the board, and on Sept. 17 he surrendered to police to face charges that include money laundering and grand larceny. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli allege that Rapfogel conspired to overcharge the agency on insurance payments, pocketing some of the overage and using the rest for political contributions.
Sources told The Times Rabbi Cohen was an unnamed co-conspirator in that scheme, which seems to have predated Rapfogel’s tenure and may have involved as much as $5 million. Rabbi Cohen has also been fired from the consulting job at Met Council, the paper said.
Rapfogel has returned about $400,000 in cash that he kept in his home on the Lower East Side and at least one other residence, according to the criminal complaint against him.
A knowledgeable Jewish community source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized by his employer to speak to the media, said it appeared likely that Rapfogel was cooperating with the investigation in hopes of winning leniency.
“He has shown contrition, which is what judges look for in [considering] a reduction of sentencing,” said the source, who added that recovering funds belonging to Met Council and taxpayers, to the extent possible, would be a likely priority of the investigators, as would avoiding a drawn-out trial.
On the same day he was fired, Rapfogel, who earned $417,000 in legitimate compensation at Met Council, issued a statement admitting unspecified wrongdoing and expressing his hope that it would not detract from the organization’s mission of helping the poor. Shortly afterward, however, New York City froze more than $1 million in funds awarded to Met Council, raising alarms about the impact on services including food assistance for struggling families. “People will starve,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn warned in an interview with The Jewish Week last month.
Rapfogel remains free on bail while awaiting his next court appearance in January.
Shipper said day-to-day operations at Hatzalah would be handled by board members until a new CEO is hired. He said Hatzalah has no relationship with Century Coverage, the Long Island-based insurance broker tied to the Met Council investigation, whose employees have donated more than $120,000 to local elected officials in the past 20 years, according to an analysis by The Times.
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