A convicted felon has been elected leader of a government-funded Chabad-dominated community council in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.
Despite serving a 15-month jail term for bank fraud, Rabbi Moshe Rubashkin captured 71% of the 1,208 votes cast in the recent election to head the Crown Heights Community Council. The council, a nonprofit group, receives $1.9 million per year in public funds to provide social services, including food stamps and affordable housing.
Some voters told the Forward that they hoped Rubashkin, a popular TK, would help bridge divisiveness in their community.
“I voted for Moshe Rubashkin,” said Chanina Sperlin, a longtime committee member. “Moshe Rubashkin is a fine man. Moshe Rubashkin loves to help Jews, and more than a Jew, a Jew who needs help.”
Rubashkin pleaded guilty to bank fraud in July 2002, according to court records obtained from the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania. He served a 15-month jail sentence, and is currently serving a five-year probation term.
Rubashkin’s victory was first reported last week in Newsday. The vote took place January 31.
His supporters praise him for clothing Israeli yeshiva students and for welcoming needy Jews to his annual Purim celebrations.
In a statement to the Forward, Rubashkin wrote, “The community leaders and residents were fully informed of all issues and honored me with their trust to lead us into a brighter future.”
City councilwoman Letitia James, whose Brooklyn jurisdiction represents parts of Crown Heights, was one of several elected officials who attended a Sabbath dinner at Rubashkin’s home following the election.
“I believe in the democratic process, and he received the overwhelming support of the Crown Heights community,” she said.
James noted that convicted felons may legally run for government-funded groups and that Rubashkin’s past had been disclosed to voters. “Who am I to judge?” she said.
At least one observer of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which controls the secular Crown Heights group, said that Rubashkin’s election could bridge the gap between those who believe that the sect’s late spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was the messiah and those who do not.
“Moshe Rubashkin served his time and is moving on in society,” the observer said. “The real story is that he is a practical guy who wants to heal internal divisions in Crown Heights.”
Still, the community group is taking pre-emptive measures. According to a spokesman for Rubashkin, the new community council head “will not be involved in the dispersement of checks out of an abundance of caution.”
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said that Rubashkin is “related to the family” that owns the AgriProcessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. He declined to elaborate.
The plant has been the target of a recent advertising campaign launched by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The group, known as Peta, has claimed that the plant was employing inhumane slaughtering practices.
AgriProcessors has denied the allegations.