William Rapfogel, the former head of one of the city’s most prominent social service agencies who was fired amid allegations of financial misconduct, surrendered to the police on Tuesday and will face charges including grand larceny and money laundering, authorities said.
The scheme ensnaring the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty may have spanned as long as two decades and involved millions of dollars, according to court papers, which also say Rapfogel kept a stash of more than $400,000 in cash. Rapfogel’s total compensation at the organization was about $417,000.
Rapfogel, 58, long one of the city’s best-known charity executives, was released from the First Precinct in Lower Manhattan after posting $100,000 in bail, according to a spokesman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who investigated the case. Rapfogel surrendered his passport after Judge Kevin McGrath ordered him not to leave the state.
“It’s always sad and shocking when we discover that someone used a charity as their own personal piggy bank — but even more so when that scheme involves someone well respected in government and his community,” announced Schneiderman in a statement.
The attorney general announced a long list of charges including grand larceny in the first degree, money laundering in the first degree, money laundering in the second degree, four counts of criminal tax fraud in the third degree, conspiracy in the fourth degree, five counts of falsifying business records in the first degree and three counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.
Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have been jointly investigating accusations that as leader of the Met Council, Rapfogel inflated the agency’s insurance payments in collusion with a brokerage firm, Century Coverage.
The New York Times reported that an anonymous whistleblower alerted Met Council’s board to the scheme and the board. The board on Aug. 12 announced that it had hired a law firm to investigate and relayed the findings to the attorney general.
“We take the matters involved in this investigation, and the need to correct the issues of the past, very seriously,” said Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Met Council in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“Under the new leadership of David Frankel, who will officially join Met Council on Monday, we will remain focused on what has been the core mission of Met Council for more than 40 years – providing essential services to thousands of New Yorkers in need. “
DiNapoli, in a statement, said “The scale and duration of this scheme are breathtaking. When individuals in the mission of helping others instead help themselves, it is particularly egregious. But eventually, fraud, no matter how cunning, unravels.”
At the time of his firing, Rapfogel admitted some unspecified wrongdoing, saying in a statement issued by his lawyer that “I deeply regret the mistakes I have made that led to my departure from the organization” after 21 years of service.
A call to the attorney, Paul Shechtman, was not answered on Tuesday afternoon, and a recording said his voicemail was too full to record messages.
The Daily News said Rapfogel’s case was adjourned for a Jan. 24 hearing, and quoted Shechtman as saying, “Mr. Rapfogel hopes for a fair resolution of this case and will continue to make amends to Met Council. It’s a sad day, but happily people who know Willie well are still in his corner.”
According to Schneiderman, Rapfogel stole $5 million from the organization over a 20-year period, including keeping about $1 million for himself (and sharing the rest with co-conspirators).
In his role at Met Council, Rapfogel presided over its growth from a small beneficiary of UJA-Federation of New York to a network of programs that serve 100,000 needy New Yorkers each year; he utilized strong connections with local elected officials — including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose chief of staff is Rapfogel’s wife, Judy — to win state and city grants. The organization’s mission has been not only to serve the needy but also to break the stereotype that most Jews are wealthy.
The organization’s annual legislative breakfast, usually held immediately prior to the Celebrate Israel Parade, draws scores of elected officials and honors their work on behalf of the Jewish poor, and the annual Builder’s Lunch honors developers who construct low-income housing.
A spokeswoman for Silver said Tuesday the speaker would have no comment beyond the statement he issued in August, in which he said, “I am stunned and deeply saddened by this news. While there is still much that we don’t know, we do know that the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has given tens of thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds lifesaving help over the past four decades.”
Met Council reportedly has about $15 million in active state contracts from the state and receives millions more from New York City funding, as well as philanthropic funds. The funding from the city has been frozen since immediately after the scam was first reported.
Gabriela Geselowitz, Steve Lipman and Adam Dickter contributed to this report.
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