William Rapfogel's Empire at Met Council Extends Deep Into Real Estate

Anti-Poverty Group Has Wide Footprint — and Influence

met council

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 14, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
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From his office above Manhattan’s Financial District, William Rapfogel controlled a charitable empire much larger than most understood.

His organization, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, gave food to poor Jews. But it also cooked up massive real estate deals with powerful for-profit developers, throwing up new low-income housing across the city.

All told, Met Council and its nearly 30 not-for-profit subsidiaries spent $112 million in 2012. That’s far more than the $27 million budget of Met Council itself, which has been cited widely in coverage of the group since Rapfogel’s surprise August departure in connection with a corruption probe.

That makes Met Council one of the dozen or so largest Jewish charities in the United States.

Today, the organization says that its very existence is threatened. Rapfogel was charged in September with stealing $5 million from Met Council; his predecessor, Rabbi Dovid Cohen, is reportedly under investigation for participating in the same scheme. City and state officials have suspended nearly $13 million in pending grants.

“We take these matters extremely seriously and are working as hard as we can to restore the confidence of our government regulators,” a Met Council representative said in a statement. “The freezes on our city and state contracts have the potential to affect the long-term viability of Met Council.”

If Met Council were, indeed, to become unviable, its fall would echo far beyond its Maiden Lane headquarters, and even beyond the soup kitchens and social service outreach centers it supports in the outer boroughs.

Met Council owns and operates 25 low-income housing developments and has two more in the works, plus a large home health care arm. The entire apparatus received $90 million from state, local and federal governments in its 2012 fiscal year. The council has also nurtured close relationships with many of the city’s largest developers, who have collaborated with it on projects and have rubbed shoulders at its galas.

City and state authorities began freezing pending grants in August, when Met Council terminated Rapfogel and Cohen. Those frozen funds represent some $8.2 million on an annualized basis for Met Council, according to a person familiar with Met Council’s state and city contracts. The grants support programs that serve 60,000 people. It’s unclear how long it will be until Met Council runs out of money to operate the programs.

One government-funded Met Council program that helped seniors navigate the Affordable Care Act has been frozen since early October, when a New York Post story revealed that it had been awarded a new contract despite the corruption probe. Seven Met Council employees hired to run the program have been let go.


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