Three men have admitted to stealing $9 million from a taxpayer-funded anti-poverty nonprofit group by laundering it through a Long Island insurance company and donating some of the money to political campaigns.
William Rapfogel and David Cohen pleaded guilty Wednesday at Manhattan county court to grand larceny after Joseph Ross, of Valley Stream-based Century Coverage Corporation, pleaded guilty in December.
“This was a troubling and sad case of personal gain at the expense of important community services,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which helps the poor and elderly in the metropolitan area with social, economic, housing, food and emergency financial assistance as well as anti-family violence programs.
Rapfogel and Cohen told Ross to donate portions of the stolen money to the campaigns of political candidates that they believed could help the nonprofit, which receives funding through state and city grants, legislative member items and contracts, prosecutors said.
Rapfogel, the former executive director of the group, and his predecessor, Cohen, covered up the kickback scheme by pocketing the difference between inflated invoices and actual insurance costs between 1993 and 2013, authorities said.
The group paid the inflated premiums, and then Ross paid cash kickbacks to Cohen and Herbert Friedman, the group’s chief financial officer, who has also been charged with conspiracy, according to investigators with the state attorney general’s office.
Cohen was head of the group when the scheme was first hatched and continued to receive kickbacks when he stayed on as a consultant after Rapfogel—who’s reportedly married to the chief of staff for state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan)—took over and joined the conspiracy.
Ross paid Rapfogel and Cohen $20,000 to $30,000 each annually at first—either in cash envelopes or by paying personal expenses—but the scam snowballed until Rafogel received about $30,000 per month, prosecutors said.
Cohen, 70, admitted to taking $650,000 over the years and has been ordered to pay that amount in restitution by the time he is sentenced July 9 to up to 1 1/2 to 4 1/2 years in prison.
Rapfogel, 59, admitted to stealing more than $1 million and has been ordered to repay $3 million before he is sentenced July 16. If he fails to pay, his expected sentence of 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison will increase to 4 to 12 years. Investigators said they found more than $400,000 cash in his homes.
Ross is scheduled to be sentenced May 13, but the terms of his plea deal were not released.