Central United Talmudic Academy (CUTA), a.k.a. Yeshiva Torah ViYirah DeRabbeinu Yoel MeSatmar, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Monday admitted in federal court that it was involved in several overlapping frauds, including a multi-million-dollar scheme to wrongfully obtain funds designated to feed needy schoolchildren, the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York reported Monday.
CUTA has entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with the government in connection with the criminal information filed in the Eastern District of New York charging the school with conspiring to commit wire fraud. As part of the agreement, the school has agreed to pay $5 million in penalties, on top of more than $3 million in restitution it has already paid.
CUTA’s former executive director Elozer Porges, and his assistant, Joel Lowy, pleaded guilty in March 2018, admitting their roles in the conspiracy to defraud the government. Porges was sentenced to two years in prison imprisonment in October 2019, and Lowy was sentenced in April 2022 to five-year probation, 1000 hours of community service, and $98,407.21 in restitution.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said “the misconduct at CUTA was systemic and wide-ranging, including stealing over $3 million allocated for schoolchildren in need of meals,” and added: “Today’s resolution accounts for CUTA’s involvement in those crimes and provides a path forward to repay and repair the damage done to the community, while also allowing CUTA to continue to provide education for children in the community.”
Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said: “Today’s admission makes clear there was a pervasive culture of fraud and greed in place at CUTA. We expect schools to be places where students are taught how to do things properly. The leaders of CUTA went out of their way to do the opposite, creating multiple systems of fraud to cheat the government. The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to investigate these types of frauds and schemes to ensure government programs benefit those they were designed to help without being exploited.”
According to admissions in the statement of facts and other public documents, between 2014 and 2016, CUTA received more than $3.2 million in reimbursement for a meal program that purported to feed students of the yeshiva. The program was almost entirely fictitious. Rather than feed its children, CUTA diverted the funding, including subsidizing parties for adults. To commit the crime, CUTA fabricated records and made dozens of sworn misrepresentations to government agencies.
During the investigation into the fictitious meal program, the investigative team uncovered evidence of other fraudulent conduct by CUTA and its employees, including payroll practices that enabled the school’s employees to commit benefit and tax fraud.
For example, CUTA paid its employees in a manner that grossly underrepresented their employees’ “on the books” income. The school accomplished this in several ways. In addition to paying its employees in cash, CUTA provided its employees with “coupons” that were redeemable at local stores for a specific cash value. Employees could use these coupons to make purchases, and the stores would then redeem the coupons back to the school for payment. These “coupons” facilitated an underground economy, in which employees obtained usable income unknown to the government. CUTA provided additional “off the books” income in other ways, such as through undisclosed investment accounts.
The investigation determined that CUTA engaged in these practices, in part, to facilitate additional frauds committed by its employees. By underrepresenting its employees’ income, CUTA enabled its employees to obtain various public benefits—including health care and childcare—that would not have been available if the employees honestly reported their income. CUTA further supported these efforts by providing letters to government agencies falsely stating that their employees only earned the “on the books” amount the School disclosed to the taxing authorities, thus enabling their employees to commit welfare and other benefits fraud. CUTA, in turn, also benefited from its employees’ misrepresentations, as it then accepted and cashed child care vouchers provided to its employees by the State, which its employees only qualified for as a result of the school’s misrepresentations. Defendant Joel Lowy was among the many CUTA employees to avail themselves of this scheme.
CUTA also provided no-show jobs to non-employees, facilitated “parsonage” tax exemptions for individuals who did not provide parsonage services, sought and obtained technology funding for uses unrelated to the school’s educational purposes, and provided child care services without proper licenses.