Can Met Council on Jewish Poverty Recover From William Rapfogel Scandal?

Lavish Events Continue Despite Stolen Millions

Face of Disgrace: William Rapfogel was the face of the Met Council. Now he’s going to prison for fraud.
Met Council
Face of Disgrace: William Rapfogel was the face of the Met Council. Now he’s going to prison for fraud.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published May 05, 2014, issue of May 09, 2014.
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In court in April, William Rapfogel wore a huge black yarmulke and a grim expression as he admitted to stealing more than $1 million from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, the major New York charity he ran for two decades.

Rapfogel’s future is clear: The 59-year-old, once among New York’s most powerful political figures, will spend up to 12 years in state prison.

What’s less clear is the future of the charity that Rapfogel left behind. The rot went deep at Met Council: Rapfogel’s predecessor, David Cohen, pleaded guilty to stealing $650,000. Herb Friedman, Met Council’s chief financial officer for 18 years, has also been charged.

Most of Met Council’s top leadership has been replaced since August. But the new leaders have been tight-lipped about their plans to rehabilitate the muddied group.

Now, as Met Council restarts fundraising efforts and begins once again to hold public events, two things are apparent: The group has not toned down its lavish public events. And political officials and operatives are still clamoring for photo opportunities with its leaders and logos.

Met Council would not provide anyone to speak for this story. The group did not respond to questions about its fundraising or about the biography of David Frankel, its new executive director and CEO. In a one-sentence statement to the Forward, Met Council said it was “working tirelessly to ensure that poor New Yorkers have the resources and support they need to become self-sufficient.”

On April 3, less than three weeks before Rapfogel and Cohen’s guilty pleas, Met Council supporters gathered in the Cotillion Room at The Pierre Hotel, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, to celebrate the organization and its backers. Placards in the entry hall thanked mega-developer Bruce Ratner and major Chabad donors Pamela and George Rohr. A $25-per-ticket raffle offered nice prizes: a big flat-screen TV, Giants and Yankees tickets.

The event, called Food for Life, raised money for Met Council’s food programs. Guests ate, buffet-style, from mountainous sushi platters and martini glasses stuffed with quinoa and salmon.

The annual event raised $350,000 — far less than the $2 million the same event raised last year, on the occasion of the Met Council’s 40th anniversary, but on par with the $360,000 the event raised in 2012.

Met Council events before the scandal were well known for the hordes of local politicians who showed up to have their photos taken. Most of the pols seem to have skipped the Food for Life gala. And a March story in the New York Jewish Week claimed that Frankel was less interested in political glad-handing than his predecessor.


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