NEW YORK — A longtime Jewish community leader who headed one of the city’s most influential social service organizations was charged Tuesday with looting the charity for two decades, stealing more than
$5 million with two confederates and pocketing $1 million himself.
State authorities investigating the scheme found more than $400,000 in cash squirreled away in the homes of the community leader, William E. Rapfogel, 58, who was arraigned in criminal court on charges that included grand larceny, money laundering, conspiracy, and criminal tax fraud.
Rapfogel’s history at the organization, the Metropolitan New York Council on Jewish Poverty, where he was a figure of such prominence and respect that he was often referred to as the Prince of the Jews, was mired in fraud from almost the moment he took the helm in 1992, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case.
It was a history, according to the complaint, of cash kickbacks passed in envelopes and a slush fund that funneled campaign contributions to politicians who provided government grants to the nonprofit organization. The cash payments and the contributions were skimmed from overpayments to Met Council’s insurance broker, where one of the two people listed in the complaint as Rapfogel’s coconspirators worked.
After Rapfogel was fired in August on allegations of financial improprieties, he publicly acknowledged unspecified wrongdoing, issuing a statement saying, “I deeply regret the mistakes I have made that led to my departure.”
The charges were based in some measure on investigators’ interviews with Rapfogel and the two people referred to as coconspirators, who were not identified in the complaint.
Rapfogel was arraigned in a brief proceeding before Judge Kevin McGrath in Criminal Court in Manhattan. McGrath released him on $100,000 bail.
The charges stem from an investigation by the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, and the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, into Rapfogel’s stewardship of the social service organization, which first detected the improprieties and alerted state authorities.
“It’s always sad and shocking when we discover that someone used a charity as their own personal piggy bank — but even more so when that scheme involves someone well respected in government and his community,” Schneiderman said in a news release.