The Satmar political activist whom federal agents arrested Thursday on food stamp fraud charges had a side gig as a political fixer for rich Hasidim, the Forward has learned.
Isaac Sofer, who managed government relations for a Satmar yeshiva system, used his political connections to help wealthy members of the Hasidic community, according to a political consultant with ties to the Orthodox community.
A complaint unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday alleged that Sofer had vastly understated his own income in order to receive $30,000 in food stamps through the federal SNAP program.
FBI agents arrested Sofer on Thursday morning. His extensive political ties have raised questions about whether the arrest is related to a broader corruption investigation.
“He had a vast network of contacts from his regular job, and he didn’t hesitate to use them,” the consultant said.
Sofer is a leading political figure among the followers of the Satmar grand rabbi, Aaron Teitelbaum. He was the face of his community’s support for Bill de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral run, which came as other Hasidic groups backed de Blasio’s Democratic rival.
On Tuesday, just days before his arrest, many of New York’s most powerful public officials attended a Satmar gathering in Brooklyn. Attendees to the annual event included Sen. Chuck Schumer and acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Sofer issued some of the invitations to the event.
“On behalf of the Satmar Chasidic community, it is our pleasure to request the honor of your presence at the annual community dinner dedicated to our United Talmudical Academy network of educational institutions,” read the invitation that Sofer signed.
“They didn’t find Isaac Sofer because they were looking through the food stamp records,” said one New York City-based political consultant, referring to the federal investigators.
According to the complaint, Sofer claimed in his application for federal food stamp benefits that his income was between $0 per month and $25,500 per year, and that he had no substantial assets. Yet investigators obtained an application for life insurance in which Sofer reported an income of $100,000 and assets of $600,000.
The complaint also alleged that Sofer had sworn in his 2016 application that no one in his family had made a cash gift in three years but he had actually made $525 in political donations in 2015.
In March, federal investigators raided the Central United Talmudical Academy’s offices. The Forward reported at the time that the FBI was probing the school’s use of funds disbursed through the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes food for low-income students.
Correction: An earlier version of this story suggested that Sofer issued all invitations to the Satmar gathering that were sent public officials. Some public officials, including acting D.A. Gonzalez, were invited by other Satmar community members.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.