William Rapfogel Scandal Widens as Met Council Axes Key Consultant

Dovid Cohen Bounced on Same Day as Disgraced Chief

Peas in a Pod: The Met Council on Jewish Poverty terminated its long relationship with Dovid Cohen on the same day that William Rapfogel was fired over a $5 million insurance kickback scheme.
courtesy of met council
Peas in a Pod: The Met Council on Jewish Poverty terminated its long relationship with Dovid Cohen on the same day that William Rapfogel was fired over a $5 million insurance kickback scheme.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 25, 2013, issue of October 04, 2013.
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Rapfogel is accused of pocketing $1 million in the scheme. Investigators found $400,000 in cash in Rapfogel’s homes on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and in upstate New York. The insurance firm employee involved in the scheme, who is not named in the complaint, told investigators that Rapfogel had asked for a $27,000 check in 2013 to pay a contractor working at his house.

Rapfogel and the unnamed co-conspirator at the Met Council also told their ally at the insurance firm to make political donations with money from the overbilling scheme. According to the complaint, the checks were given to Rapfogel, who handed them to politicians himself.

Rapfogel’s ties to the political class were legendary in New York circles. Practically every recognizable politician in the state attended the Met Council’s events regularly. Photos from the 2013 Legislative Breakfast in June, just months before Rapfogel’s fall, show the wide array of powerful government figures for whom the event was a must-attend. They included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, public advocate candidate Letitia James, Rep. Grace Meng, New York State Senator Jeff Klein and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office led the investigation of Rapfogel. Many of the political figures share a frame with Rapfogel himself.

Rapfogel used his influence to raise millions from government. The Met Council received $11 million in government grants in 2011 and $15 million in 2010.

Cohen, for his part, used his political heft to raise money for Jewish causes from government agencies after he left his staff position at the Met Council in 1992. In 2010, his group, Hatzalah, received a $445,000 grant from the New York State Assembly to update its communications system. Silver, the Assembly speaker, spoke at the ceremony announcing the grant.

Heshy Jacob, a board member of Hatzalah, told the Forward that the organization does not buy insurance through Century, the firm implicated in the Met Council allegations. Jacob is a close Rapfogel ally.

The Rapfogel complaint has raised questions in the media and among some Republican lawmakers about the possible role of Judy Rapfogel, who is Rapfogel’s wife and Silver’s chief of staff. A spokesman for Silver’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether the $400,000 allegedly found in the Rapfogels’ homes had changed Silver’s thinking about a possible role played by Judy Rapfogel in the case. In August, when news of the allegations against William Rapfogel first broke, Silver’s office released a statement in which he said he was “stunned and deeply saddened” by the charges. Judy Rapfogel continues to work as his chief of staff.

William Rapfogel’s attorney, Paul Schechtman, maintained on September 24 that Judy Rapfogel had done nothing wrong. “I see no evidence, and I’m confident that there is none, that Judy was aware of any wrongdoing,” Schechtman said.

Schechtman declined to say whether he was conceding that there had been wrongdoing on William Rapfogel’s part. In a statement in August, Rapfogel issued a vague apology for “mistakes.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis


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