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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘fraud’

Israeli Museum Names Hall for US Fugitive Kobi Alexander

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Only in Israel.

The Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv is naming a hall after U.S. fugitive and former Comverse technology CEO Kobi Alexander, who along with his sister donated money for renovating the museum’s Glass Pavilion, now called the Shaula and Kobi Alexander Center.

Alexander, a native of Israel, fled to Namibia in 2006 after being indicted in the United States for fraud and still is wanted by the American government. Nambia has no extradition treaty with the United States.

The Eretz Israel Museum said it asked Alexander for a donation, and Globes reported that museum director Ilan Cohen said, “I welcome the connection with the Alexander family that has donated to the museum over the years. His father Tzvi Alexander donated his important and rare stamp collection to the museum.”

As for naming a hall after a fugitive,  he stated, “There are no criteria for naming buildings for people.”

The Eretz Israel Museum is one of the largest in the country and includes exhibits of archeology, ethnography, stamps, folklore, Judaica, traditional crafts, popular art, cultural history, and local identity.

An archaeological site dating back more 3,000 years is in the center of the museum.

Court Orders New Elections in Beit Shemesh

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

The Jewish Home party won its day in court on Thursday with an administration court ruling that the October 22 elections for the Beit Shemesh mayor and city council are invalid because of suspected fraud. The court ordered a new vote.

Jewish Home mayoral candidate lost the election by 956 votes to Shas party incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul.

Shortly before the voting, police raid several homes and found identification cards that were in the hands of impersonators, and investigators said there is evidence of widespread fraud and suspicion of possible organized crime behind the forgeries.

Amazingly, Mayor Abutbul’s attorney told the court that, sure, there were some forgeries, but “you have to prove that all of the votes [separating Abutbul and Cohen] were invalid in order to cancel the elections. This is simple math. The police raided several homes and caught 120 identification cards, 36 of which were used to vote illegally. These are the facts, and the rest is speculation.”

Nice try, but no go, said the court. It is not just speculation; it is evidence that the foul play“went to the roots of the elections,” the court’s judges wrote in their ruling. It noted that “public trust collapsed.”

Shas is not known for clean politics. Neither is the Likud, but Shas’ problem is that it gets caught more often. It does not have the finesse of the Ashkenazi elite to be crooked and get away with it.

Just ask Aryeh Deri, who has returned to head the party after time ran out on his not being able to hold public office by virtue of his conviction and prison sentence for bribery, which politicians, religious and secular, think is not illegal if is a mitzvah.

Thursday’s decision was victory for the Jewish Home party, which already tastes an electoral victory in the re-run of the votes. A date has not yet been announced, but Beit Shemesh residents are anxious to vote again.

The city has been severely divided over religion. A radical Haredi cult has made life miserable for many national religious families. Many secular residents are furious over the increasing Haredi influence, let alone the radicals who want separate sidewalks for men and women.

A relatively large number of Americans live in Beit Shemesh, located a few miles west of Jerusalem. One of them is Dov Lipman, who now is a Knesset Member for the Yesh Atid party.

Haredi Voters in Beit Shemesh Admit They Gave ID Cards to Others

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Several Haredi residents in Beit Shemesh have confessed to police investigators that they gave the identification cards to others to vote in their place, Israel radio reported.

On Election Day, police confiscated approximately 200 identification cards and disguises. Attorney General Yehudah Weinstein appealed to the courts to violate the recent elections in Beit Shemesh, and he judges asked for more proof.  The identification card fraud pointed to an “intentional and systematic attempt to alter the election’s results,” Weinstein told the court.

The false voters disguised themselves while in a nearby apartment so they would not be recognized and then arrived at polling stations.

If a new election is held, the Jewish Home party is expecting their candidate, Eli Cohen, will win. Shas incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul beat Cohen by only 956 votes.

Former Followers of ‘Kabbalah Centre’ Sue for Fraud

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

The controversial Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre is being sued for over $1 million by former followers in two lawsuits alleging fraud and misuse of funds.

Both suits were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and claim that the Centre pressured the plaintiffs “to give money until it hurts,” in order to receive “the light” from its leaders, Karen Berg and her adult sons Yehuda and Michael.

Carolyn Cohen, a San Diego real estate broker, said that she and one of her companies lost some $810,000 to the Centre, which, she claimed, “engages in a pattern and practice of raising funds … for the purpose of enriching itself.”

San Diego business owners Randi and Charles Wax, the other plaintiffs, alleged losses of $326,000.

In both cases, the plaintiffs said they were told that the donations were earmarked for a new Kabbalah Centre building in San Diego and for a children’s charity, but they said the new Centre was never built and the charity abruptly ceased operation.

The late Rabbi Phillip Berg established the initial Kabbalah facility in Jerusalem and the first American operation in New York in 1965. Since 1984, the Centre’s worldwide operations, with 50 branches, have been headquartered in Los Angeles.

The Berg family has received worldwide publicity by attracting such Hollywood followers as Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

Over the past years, the Centre also has attracted numerous lawsuits in the United States and Britain, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service launched a tax evasion investigation in 2010. The outcome is still pending.

Traditional rabbinical authorities repeatedly have denounced the Centre’s teachings and methods as a perversion of the Kabbalah’s profound mysticism. In Israel, one synagogue told The Jewish Press that after a Christian Zionist organization donated a set of Berg’s version of the Zohar, the local rabbi ordered that the books be buried so that they would never be read.

They were not burned despite his suspect interpretations because the set includes original text of the holy Zohar.

Attorney General May Appeal to Court for New Elections in Beit Shemesh

Monday, November 25th, 2013

The smell of election fraud in Beit Shemesh is beginning to stink so much that residents may get a chance to flush the sewage and vote a second time for a mayor, perhaps without phony voters.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is considering an appeal to the courts to order new municipal elections in the city in the wake of deepening suspicions by police investigators of widespread fraud among Haredi backers of incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul.

The Justice Ministry told Israel Radio, which reported on Weinstein’s concerns Monday, that the attorney general is following the police probe and will issue a decision in several days concerning an appeal to the courts. A court order to cancel elections and hold a re-run is rare but not without precedent.

The recent election was bitterly fought between Jewish Home candidate Eli Cohen and Mayor Abutbul, backed by the Shas party. Abutbul won a narrow victory, winning 51.9 percent of the vote while Cohen won 46.1 percent.

Jewish Home hollered ”foul” and raised questions whether Abutbul’s voters really were the same people who cast the ballots.

A police raid on two homes before the elections last month uncovered 250 false identification cards that people intended to use to cast extra ballots.

Eight people were arrested, and police found several hats in the homes, indicating that people had intended to change their appearance to represent people who were not in the city at the time of the voting.  Supporters for Jewish Home candidate Cohen also accused Shas activists of throwing out some ballots that had been cast in favor of Cohen.

Police investigators have discovered that the alleged fraud ran far and deep, and Israel Radio said there are suspicions that many more people were involved.

Beit Shemesh has been deeply divided over the past several years between local secular and national religious communities on one side and Haredi and extreme Haredi groups on the other.

The bitterness in the city has caught brought unwanted international attention to Beit Shemesh, which has a large number of Americana and British immigrants.

Violence and hate attacks reached the point where one Haredi man spat on a young girl, daughter of American olim, who eventual left the city.

Niso Shacham Quitting Police Following Sexual Assault Indictment

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The former police commander for the Jerusalem district, Niso Shacham, told Police Commission Yochanan Danino that he will be quitting the police force. If he didn’t quit,, it was expected that he would have been fired in the coming weeks.

An indictment was filed against Shacham a few days ago, for sexual harassment of his subordinates, indecent assault, fraud and breach of trust, following an investigation and charges against him that began last year.

Shacham had relations with at least eight significantly younger and lower ranking female police officers. He was indicted for indecent acts on 2 officers, and sexual harassment of a third.

Shacham first came into the general public’s eye eight years ago, after he was caught on video, vulgarly giving orders to his policeman to use excessive force on the non-violent, unarmed civilians who had gathered in Kfar Maimom to protest the upcoming expulsion from Gush Katif.

He was not punished then for his actions, and was eventually promoted to be the Jerusalem Police Commander.

Dealing With Abuse And Theft In Jewish Nonprofits

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

My friend seemed agitated. We were discussing the topic of this article and he was concerned about the possibility it might lead to widespread suspicion of those entrusted with the management and safekeeping of the assets of our local mosdos. He reminded me of the pasukV’amech kulam tzaddikim” – “And your nation is all righteous.”

Aren’t lay people and professionals in shuls and day schools around the country fulfilling their tasks and responsibilities with honesty and integrity? Don’t those individuals who go about their (often thankless) jobs with the utmost dedication, all the while being overworked and underpaid, deserve a chezkas kashrus? If so, then on what basis are mosdos justified in implementing strong internal and financial control policies and enacting measures that can detect or prevent theft and fraud?

Anyone who follows current events is aware that fraud and abuse are continually on the rise. Nonprofits are no exception. Actually, in many respects, it is easier to commit theft and fraud in nonprofits than in commercial entities. This past August the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was fired for major financial improprieties and two weeks ago was arrested and charged with stealing more than $5 million from the time he assumed that position in 1993. And then a senior executive at a prominent Jewish nonprofit organization resigned his position because of his alleged link to this scandal.

Experts in the field of fraud examination with whom I have spoken will tell you we typically are not dealing with evil people harboring bad intentions at the outset. The vast majority of those who perpetrate theft do not start with the intention to steal. Years can go by during which they actually fulfill their tasks and responsibilities with complete honesty and integrity. Then one day they are faced with an overwhelming expense, be it a wedding or a large unexpected medical bill. The pressure can be enormous and the rationalization to “borrow” from the institution’s account is beyond enticing. They figure they will pay it back soon and no one will ever know the difference. But they don’t pay it back. And they “borrow” again and again until they are swept up and trapped in a current of theft and deception from which they cannot find their way out.

Aside from the perpetrator, who must take ultimate responsibility, the board of directors is guilty of negligence. In many local mosdos, the professional staff or lay personnel in charge of finances are often people whom board members grew up with and have known for years. They share in each other’s simchas, their kids play together, or they may sit side by side in shiur. Putting absolute trust in such individuals is entirely understandable. But for those who sit on the board of a local institution and are charged with safeguarding the hard-earned mamon hekdesh, such blind trust is inexcusable. Everyone assumes bad things can never happen and will never happen – until they do.

Board members of our local mosdos have a sacred and fiduciary duty to take steps that would greatly reduce the risk of fraudulent activity. These steps are not difficult or expensive. Paying thousands annually to hire an outside auditor to conduct an internal control or fraud detection review is not necessary. Rather, a finance oversight committee of two or three responsible lay people investing one or two hours a month of their time is more than sufficient to reduce this risk to a minuscule level. The mere existence of such a committee alone would act as an effective deterrent.

Rudimentary steps could include reviewing the monthly bank reconciliation and bank statement, the cash disbursement register, the monthly cash receipts report, and a report of all recorded non-cash transactions. In addition, a system could be set up to inform the staff that donations in checks and cash, anonymously given and otherwise, will be sent in periodically and monitored to ensure complete and proper processing. For online accounts, automatic e-mail notifications for any transaction or change should be sent to at least two members of the finance oversight committee. Purchasing a fidelity bond insurance policy should also be considered as a practical step.

Much ink has been spilled in our community on the issue of living beyond our means. I don’t think anyone can argue that for many of us, the temptation to build a humongous house, make grandiose chassanahs and buy the fanciest cars and clothes is enormous. Particularly in America, the pressure to live a lifestyle of the rich and famous can be overwhelming. This just serves, of course, to increase the risk of fraud and deceit. The reality is, we all have flaws and weaknesses.

But how then do we understand the pasuk “V’amech kulam tzaddikim” that my friend mentioned? The explanation is that the navi Yeshayahu was prophesying; he was speaking of a future generation. At that time, Hashem will purify all the Jews gathered in Eretz Yisrael and the entire Jewish nation will in fact be righteous (may those days come soon).

But we are not there yet.

Thus we should learn from Moshe Rabbeinu, who in Parshas Pikudei made a full accounting of all the contributions for the Mishkan under his and Betzalel’s supervision. He understood that leaders, regardless of their high stature, must take all possible steps to prevent even an inkling of suspicion.

We should learn from the officers in charge of withdrawing the funds donated to the Beis HaMikdash. When they entered the lishkah, they did so barefoot and wearing clothing that contained no hemmed parts, no wide sleeves, and no pockets or cuffs, so that it would be impossible for them to hide any coins lest they be suspected of stealing.

We should learn from Chazal, who tell us it is not enough for one to know that one’s actions are proper in the “eyes of Hashem”; rather, one must act in a way that removes any suspicion in the eyes of people as well.

So just how should those charged with implementing strong financial oversight and controls do it? With extreme sensitivity, an ayin tov, and with a sense of gratitude and goodwill toward the professional staff. And this actually may be the most important point of all. Choosing the members of such a committee (or any lay committee for that matter) is the single most important decision an institution can make.

The net financial worth of a person, whether self-earned or by virtue of the family one is born or married into, should be secondary at best and perhaps not even considered at all. Rather, the primary focus should be on individuals who are professionally accomplished, successful, and respected – yet unassuming and humble. They should be people who are discreet and constructive; who seek to build up, not tear down; and who shun gossip. I am confident that most large donors, when they see an institution run with ehrlichkeit by a leadership of impeccable character, will give no less than if they themselves were in the position of leadership.

I believe mosdos that are wise in their ways and zocheh  to this type of leadership will reap the tremendous benefits and siyatta diShmaya that will surely follow.

A Call to Action: Shut Down the Claims Conference

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

By Naomi Vilko, MD

Many Jewish Americans are unaware not only of the sordid behavior of the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany); they are also unaware of its existence and mission. Established in 1951, the Claims Conference has the tasks of negotiating for compensation and restitution for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution and of distributing payments from the German government to individual Jewish Holocaust survivors and the social services agencies that serve them.

Shamefully, $57.3 million intended for survivors was stolen from the Claims Conference by 31 people – 11 of them employees – over 16 years. [For more information, please read Isi Leibler’s numerous articles covering the Claims Conference scandal on his blog.] Now, influential Jews including Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress and Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel have insisted upon an independent investigation into the Claims Conference fraud as well as a change in its leadership and governance. I am grateful to Rabbi Mark Golub of Shalom TV, Isi Leibler of The Jerusalem Post and staff writers from The Jewish Daily Forward and The Jewish Week who have been following the Claims Conference scandal and pressing for justice for the survivors. I hope that we can mobilize the Jewish community to quickly close this corrupt agency and transfer the funds to another agency who will distribute them in time to help those in need.

Many Holocaust survivors have not received compensation for their suffering and losses because for some of these aging victims, the process is simply too painful; others have not received compensation because the Claims Conference is at best, difficult and obstructionist, and at worst, corrupt. Claims Conference officials have also continued to expand the definition of “Jewish victim of Nazi persecution”. Today, it administers programs providing funds not just to those who survived ghettos, concentration camps, forced labor battalions and death marches, but to anyone who fled Nazi invasion, lived in hiding, or lived under curfew. As a Psychiatrist specializing in trauma, I am well aware that it is difficult to tease out the quantitative and qualitative differences between different traumatic experiences – but I am certain that those who survived concentration camps (the youngest of whom are in their 80s) should receive assistance immediately and without the frustration of dealing with the uncaring staff of the Claims Conference and its various agencies.

My mother and I have dealt with the issue of reparations since my father, a survivor of 5 concentration camps, death marches, Hungarian forced labor and a ghetto, died suddenly in 1962. My father was denied any compensation. As his widow and a survivor herself, my mother appealed, but the appeals were denied. Recently, I again contacted several Jewish agencies in a futile attempt to assist my now 92-year-old mother with paying for her home-care. I was astounded to learn that if she only needed assistance 20 hours/week, she would receive funds, but since she requires 24-hour assistance (which she pays for herself) she will receive nothing to defray the expense. We were advised that she could go on Medicaid and/or be sent to a nursing home.

Jewish social agencies are doing the best they can to help survivors, but they say that they have limited funds. After helping themselves to large salaries and allowing fraud to persist under their noses for over a decade, is it any surprise that the Claims Conference does not have enough funds for the survivors it “claims” to serve? Furthermore, while it is commendable in theory for the Claims Conference to work to expand eligibility for these funds, I must ask: if there is not enough money available to help the survivors who have already been identified, what is the result of such efforts beyond making the bread lines longer?

It is an outrage and an embarrassment that the Claims Conference has continued to operate without oversight, even after failing in its responsibility to adequately investigate and prosecute the fraud for so many years. We must shut down the Claims Conference and transfer the funds to an existing agency, such as the Jewish Federation or the World Jewish Congress that can quickly prioritize the way funds are distributed to survivors. We have an obligation to take care of those who have been tortured and enslaved because they are Jewish – before it’s too late.

There are many survivors who have no children to care for or advocate for them and who live isolated lives in apartments with no services and little human contact. My hope is that raising awareness of the additional psychological trauma survivors experience as a result of the reparations and compensation processes and, specifically, the New York based Claims Conference itself, may lead the Jewish people to take action. Let’s face it: The Jewish people have not adequately taken care of the survivors, who are now extremely elderly and dying. They are entitled to live the last years of their lives with dignity.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-call-to-action-shut-down-the-claims-conference/2013/08/01/

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