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Claims Conference executive who led during fraud scandal to serve as new chairman

Gideon Taylor, the former executive director of the Claims Conference who was one of the leaders under which employees perpetrated an elaborate fraud, will be the new chairman of the organization on June 30 barring extenuating circumstances, a spokeswoman said.

Taylor is the sole nominee to replace Julius Berman, who served in the role for 20 years at the organization that distributes money from the German government to Holocaust survivors around the world.

Payments meant for survivors were distributed to impostors and Claims Conference employees received kickbacks between 1994 and 2009, the year Taylor left. Taylor was implicated in neither the subsequent FBI investigation nor the internal probe. He worked at the conference for 10 years and left about eight months before the fraud was discovered.

The Claims Conference fraud scandal resulted in convictions for 31 people who embezzled about $57 million meant for Holocaust survivors, five of whom were employed by the nonprofit. The employees approved nearly 5,000 applications complete with fraudulent documents like passports and birth certificates.

Supporters of Taylor’s say he has unparalleled knowledge of the organization and the skills necessary to navigate sometimes thorny negotiations with the German government. They also stress that it was the Claims Conference that eventually found the fraud and alerted the FBI.

Since 2013, Taylor has served as the operations chair of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, a nonprofit that aims to return property to Holocaust survivors in Europe.

“I don’t see anyone else anywhere near having both his qualifications and the necessary skill set for the position,” said Claims Conference board member Menachem Rosensaft in an interview. He acknowledged that Taylor’s ascension to the position of board chair might create problematic “optics” but said that’s less important than making sure that the conference does its best job for survivors, and Taylor was the best person for that job.

Still, his nomination raises questions for people like Barry Resnick, a professor at Santiago Canyon College, who said he tried to warn Taylor about the fraud in 2009 after Resnick found what he thought was a phony survivor in Australia. after seeing him on television. Taylor also commissioned a probe in 2001 that failed to find the wrongdoing discovered eight years later.

“It’s shameful,” said Resnick. “He was warned, and he ignored it.”

The Claims Conference board will vote at the end of the month. Rosensaft said he did not anticipate any objections.

Taylor has the support of a number of powerful people in the Holocaust restitution world, including Stuart Eizenstat, a diplomat who has negotiated payments from the German government.

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at boigon@forward.com or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon

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