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Ostreicher’s overlapping communal involvements are not limited to Relief and Agudah. A member of the Belz Hasidic sect, Ostreicher is at the nexus of a densely interconnected web of charities. Besides his role as a board member of Relief, he is chairman of a wedding charity called The Students Link; a board member of Refuah Resources, another referral service; treasurer of a new not-for-profit called Premium Health, and president of something called Affordable Drugs Inc. Other board members of Relief and Premium Health run groups called Darkah, a now-shuttered group home for girls who have mental health issues, and Renewal of Life, a group that finds kidney donors. Most of these groups, including Relief, share an address in a small one-story building across from a lumber warehouse on the outskirts of Boro Park.
Among them, the groups in this informal network have received more than $4 million from state and city government in contracts and legislative member items since 2006, much of it for mental health services.
Most of the state and city funding has gone to Relief itself. And much of this money has been directed to it by legislators with close ties to the Agudah, including Marty Golden, a Republican state senator. Former Republican senate majority leader Joseph Bruno also directed funds to Relief.
Ostreicher, a tall man with a large red beard, is “very easy to spot in the hallways of the state capital and the legislative office building,” said Michael Tobman, a political consultant who works frequently in the Orthodox community.
In years past, Tobman said, the Orthodox activists in charge of Relief understood detailed state regulations about administrative structures meant to separate charitable activities from political activities as “procedural niceties… [as] something people didn’t pay terribly much attention to. And now it’s something people take very seriously. There’s more scrutiny on it.
“These are advocates and operatives and professionals and lobbyists who are not out to enrich themselves, is my understanding, but rather work for the betterment of the community,” Tobman said.
This story was co-produced with WNYC, where Robert Lewis is an investigative reporter. Contact him on Twitter at @robertianlewis