A Brooklyn rabbi who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for fake charities and used the money to pay his cable TV and electric bill has agreed to pay restitution of $500,000 in a settlement reached today with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The rabbi, Yaakov Weingarten, pled guilty in New York State Supreme Court in May to felony tax fraud, admitting that, between 2007 and 2012, he raised money from thousands of donors for a handful of charities that did not exist.
The new settlement, signed by Kings County Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest, ends a related civil lawsuit filed by Schneiderman’s office against Weingarten and his wife, Rivka Weingarten.
Under the terms of the settlement, $360,000 of the $522,000 that the couple are required to pay will go to two Israeli charities that actually do the work that Weingarten claimed the fake charities were doing.
Weingarten’s charity network included twenty organizations, many of them purportedly raising money for needy Israelis, including the sick, the poor, cancer victims, and victims of terrorism. In an affirmation filed as part of his guilty plea in the criminal case in May, Weingarten said that eight of the Israeli charities he claimed to be raising money for were entirely made up.
“In fact, none of the monies I collected for Pulse Foundation, Chesed L’Yisrael, Israel Emergency Center, Our Children, Yad Yisrael, Yaldel Simcha Yisrael, Shearim, and Bnei Torah went to these entities, because they did not exist,” Weingarten wrote.
Instead, Weingarten used donated money to pay his mortgage, pay for home improvements at two houses he owned, and even spent $8,000 to pay his cable and electricity bills.
The portion of Weingarten’s restitution pegged for charity will be paid to the UJA-Federation of New York, which will pass it to two Israeli charities: Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, a pediatric hospital, and United Hatzalah of Israel, an EMS service.
The Weingarten conviction and settlement are the latest in the lengthy string of recent scandals involving Jewish charities in New York. And it comes the same day as former Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty CEO William Rapfogel was sentenced to 3 and a half to ten years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million for his role in a massive fraud against his own organization.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.