Willie Rapfogel's Downfall in Scandal Means Murky Future for Jewish Programs

Unfolding Kickback Scheme Erases Decades of Connections

Sudden Fall: William Rapfogel took decades building up a political network that delivered funding to Jewish poverty programs in good years and bad. What happens now that he is gone?
met council
Sudden Fall: William Rapfogel took decades building up a political network that delivered funding to Jewish poverty programs in good years and bad. What happens now that he is gone?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 14, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
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Until just a few days ago, William Rapfogel was considered New York Jewry’s poverty czar, and his deep connections to the city’s political class were viewed as one of the prime assets of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which he long headed.

Rapfogel’s abrupt firing amid the disclosure of a criminal investigation into his financial dealings could now make it harder to get government funds to poor Jews, some officials say.

“Whenever you lose someone with that kind of expertise, you lose a relationship base that was developed over years and that provided significant dividends to the community,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.

While Sheinkopf said he thought that the Met Council would be able to maintain its relationships with elected officials without Rapfogel, others were less sanguine.

“Willy has been the go-to guy for many Jewish community organizations, and in his absence a vacuum exists,” said one Jewish lobbyist active in New York. “It’s unclear how it will be filled, but until is, it is that much harder to get resources for Jewish families struggling in the grips of poverty.”

The scandal comes months after the publication of a major report showing that Jewish poverty has grown enormously in the New York area in recent years. The Met Council’s anti-poverty services rely heavily on government grants, which Rapfogel’s formidable political ties helped attract. Those ties will no longer be available to the Met Council, or to the dozens of smaller social service organizations that it supports.

It was the board of the Met Council itself that alerted law enforcement authorities to alleged financial irregularities involving Rapfogel. According to board member Menachem Lubinsky, the board fired Rapfogel on August 8 soon after learning from its own executive committee about the suspected improprieties.

The matter is now under investigation by the New York state comptroller’s office in cooperation with the state attorney general’s joint Task Force on Public Integrity.

Even at this stage, it’s not clear exactly what Rapfogel is accused of doing. The Met Council said only that the alleged misconduct related to the organization’s insurance contracts. Rapfogel issued an apology on August 12, but did not specify what he was apologizing for.


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