[eJP note: this updates our story from June 28th.]
The New York Attorney General has filed suit against and obtained a temporary restraining order shutting down a charitable fundraising operation run by Yaakov Weingarten. The organization operated out of a call center at 1493 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. According to the Attorney General’s complaint Weingarten and two associates fraudulently raised millions of dollars from generous donors using 19 charities that supposedly carried out programs in Israel or conducted religious activities. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau found that, instead of funding the worthy causes that donors intended to support, most of these charities did not operate or exist, and were instead used by Weingarten for his and his family’s personal benefit.
As detailed in the complaint, filed in Kings County Supreme Court, more than $2 million in cash was withdrawn from charity bank accounts controlled by Weingarten between 2007 and 2013. At least an additional $350,000 in checks were made payable to cash and more than $280,000 in additional charitable funds was used to pay for mortgages on two homes, including the Brooklyn house purchased in 2009 by Weingarten’s wife, Rivka, which was remodeled with additional tens of thousands of dollars meant for charity. Charitable funds were used to pay for dentist visits, utility bills, for personal vehicles, video rentals and a trip to the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City in July 2011.
The temporary restraining order obtained by Attorney General Schneiderman from Kings County Supreme Court freezes the bank accounts of the four individual defendants and all the charities controlled by Weingarten. It prohibits the defendants from soliciting charitable donations and bars them from destroying or altering records. The Court set a July 15 return date for the Attorney General’s request for a preliminary injunction that would extend the freeze order and other injunctive relief pending any trial in this matter.
The lawsuit alleges that Weingarten, 52, and an associate, Simon Weiss, 28, used a variety of unusual banking practices to conceal the fraud and transfer funds from account to account and for their own benefit. The defendants’ banking practices were so convoluted that they bounced over 2,100 checks, resulting in over $65,000 in donations being wasted on bank overdraft fees. The complaint further alleges that much of the money raised was funneled through accounts that exist in the names of several religious corporations that Weingarten created for this purpose, rather than to hold worship services or provide religious instruction.
The lawsuit also names Weingarten’s wife, Rivka, 52, who is alleged to have benefited from the charitable fraud. Another defendant, David Yifat, 66, is alleged to have been the office manager who supervised Weingarten’s telemarketing and mail solicitation operation.
Beyond the individual defendants, the suit names 19 organizations or “names” used by Weingarten to carry out his operation, including seven not-for-profit corporations (Hatzalah Rescue Of Israel, Inc.; Shearim, Inc. A/K/A Shearin; Bnei Torah, Inc.; Chesed L’yisrael V’chasdei Yosef, Inc.; Yad L’shabbat, Inc.; Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.; Pulse Foundation, Inc. A/K/A Pulse: The Israel Leukemia And Cancer Society). Four “religious” corporations are also named as defendants (Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.; Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.; Congregation Yad L’shabbat, Inc.; and Shearim Hayad L’torah Center For Hatzalah L’shabbat and Chesed L’yisrael, Inc.), and eight “charities” that exist in name only (Israel Emergency Center; Magen Israel; Hayad Victim Assistance Fund; Lmaan Hatorah; Our Children; Zaka Israel A/K/A Zaka; Yaldei Simcha Yisrael; and Yad Yisrael).