NY Daily News
December 7, 2012
Satmar Hasidim — they’re just like everybody else!
New Yorkers got a look inside the insular culture of ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn this week thanks to the sexual-abuse trial of a prominent Hasidic leader in Williamsburg.
Despite all the outward oddities of the man on trial — his black suit, untrimmed beard and lengthy side-curls — it turns out he’s right smack in the mainstream of secular political life in New York.
He has a not-for-profit cash cow, too.
Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed counselor accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in his care, testified Wednesday that he ripped off a charity he founded ostensibly to help poor Brooklynites.
“You used this not-for-profit for personal gain?” asked a Brooklyn prosecutor.
“Yes I did,” Weberman replied, admitting that he spent donations meant for his group, B’Lev V’Nefesh, on tuition for his kids’ yeshiva — and that its cash was also spent at stores like BMG Corset & Lingerie.
Creepy, sure. But par for the course in New York, where politicians routinely turn nonprofits into personal piggy banks.
* Shirley Huntley, a state senator from Queens, founded an empty-shell nonprofit called The Parents Network right before she took office in 2006. She steered $30,000 in taxpayer money to her niece, who ran the group, and tried to send even more before she was arrested this year.
* Larry Seabrook, a former city councilman from Brooklyn, was convicted of funneling $1.5 million in taxpayer funds to his mistress, his sister, two brothers and other pals through a network of nonprofit groups he controlled. He faces up to 180 years in prison.
* Pedro Espada, the former state senator from The Bronx, was convicted of looting $545,000 from his federally funded nonprofit health clinic to pay for vacations, lavish birthday parties and theater tickets. He then tapped the nonprofit for another $1 million to cover his legal fees.
* Brian McLaughlin, a former Queens assemblyman and powerful labor leader, steered $95,000 meant for a local nonprofit Little League to pals of his, just one piece of the $3.1 million he stole from public and private enterprises. He got 10 years in prison for his crimes.
Weberman, of course, holds no elective office — but he is a leader in his community and has abused its trust.
Just like the others.
Happily, Gov. Cuomo has noticed the pattern, promoting legislation that would cap the often sky-high salaries at nonprofits that benefit from state funds.
But that won’t solve the whole problem.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has pursued abusers like Huntley, but since religious charities don’t have to register with the state, Weberman’s nonprofit wasn’t on the AG’s radar before this week.
That needs to change — fast.
Time to get cracking, Albany.