Monsey: FBI Raids Target Education Technology Spending

FBI agents and Rockland district attorney’s office investigators fanned out across Ramapo Wednesday with search warrants demanding that vendors provide records and account for equipment allegedly bought by religious schools with millions in federal education technology dollars.

Agents descended around 1:30 p.m. on vendors at 21 and 29 Robert Pitt Drive, Monsey; 161 Route 59, Monsey; and 386 Route 59, Airmont to seize records.

The FBI-led raids are part of an investigation into whether Rockland yeshivas properly spent money obtained through the federal government’s E-Rate program, which came into existence in 1998 and today allocates more than $4 billion annually for computer and Internet access across the nation.

Neither U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office Rockland District Attorney nor Thomas Zugibe provided immediate comment on the raids or the investigation.

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The raids come as state and federal prosecutors continue jointly investigating potential governmental corruption in Ramapo and Clarkstown.

A joint federal-district attorney task force successfully convicted the former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret of bribe-taking involving a local development. More recently both a Ramapo councilman and the Spring Valley building inspector have faced state fraud charges.

Questions about the ultra-Orthodox community’s use of E-Rate funding were first raised in 2013 articles in the Jewish press.

The Manhattan-based Jewish Week and The Jewish Daily Forward published reports questioning the high percentage of E-Rate dollars in New York state going to Hasidic and other Orthodox schools and libraries, noting many of the schools prohibited student access to the Internet.

The Jewish Week’s first article outlined how the religious schools in Rockland and New York City obtained the federal money, while focusing on the vendors and then the investigation that led one to return $900,000.

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In an 2013 interview with Peretz Klein, owner of Hashomer Alarm Systems in Spring Valley, credited the E-Rate program with making it possible for many needy yeshivas and other Orthodox Jewish schools to install computers and modern technology for their students. The E-Rate program reimbursed up to 90 percent of the cost of infrastructure wiring, maintenance and other services.

“The government created this program to get technology in the schools,” he said. “It’s a very big help for many schools. We service the schools, do all we can to help them.”

Klein’s 33-year-old company brought in millions in E-Rate grants to install infrastructure — servers, extensive wiring and more at private schools in Rockland County and Brooklyn.

His company is one of many across the country that focus their business on the long-controversial E-Rate program, created under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 to help schools and libraries in low-income communities keep up in the digital age.

2 replies
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    FBI agents are canvassing the Monsey, NY, and Kiryas Yoel, NY, communities today in a bid to seize records for materials and equipment purchased for local schools with federal education technology dollars.

    The raid, which has brought FBI agents to Ponoma, Airmont and Spring Valley as well, is related to an investigation of how local schools participated in the E-Rate program, or the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

    The Schools and Libraries program, founded in 1998, makes telecommunications and information services more affordable for schools and libraries. Mandated by Congress in 1996 and implemented by the Federal Communications Commission in 1997, the E-rate program provides discounted telecommunications, internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, funded by the Universal Service Fund.

    The FBI is working locally with the Rockland District Attorney and others.

    Today’s raid is taking place at the same time that prosecutors on the state and federal levels are investigating local governmental corruption, though today’s activity may be unrelated.

    Investigators have been examining whether E-Rate dollars going to local schools were not being used for the proper programs, but were being misappropriated.

    Neither the FBI nor local officials are commenting on today’s raid or the current investigation.

  2. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    דאגה בקהילה החרדית בארה”ב: בשעות האחרונות (רביעי) פשטו עשרות חוקרי FBI על בתי משפחות חרדיות, בעיקר בעיירות מונסי ובקרית יואל מונורו, כשהם אוספים מסמכים הנוגעים לפרשת שחיתות חסרת תקדים, שחלק מהחשדות בה הם הסטת תקציבים, מימון ציבורי שהועבר ישיבות, שוחד והלבנות הון לצד עבירות נוספות.

    החקירה מתנהלת סביב תוכנית ממשלתית בשם אי-רייט שהחלה בשנת 1998. תכליתה היתה לספק לספריות ובתי ספר, מחשבים חדשים, אינטרנט, טלפונים ועוד, כאשר הממשלה משקיעה בכך 4 מליארד דולר.

    גם המוסדות החרדים קיבלו תקציבים במליוני דולרים, אלא שלפני כמה שנים החלו לצוץ בכלי התקשורת השאלות. היתכן שהמסודות לוקחים את הכספים למרות העובדה שאין מחשבים או אינטרנט במוסדות חרדיים? כך החלה החקירה להתגלגל בחשד שהמוסדות הוצאו כספים במרמה למטרות אחרות.

    יצויין, כי חלק מהחשודים הינם בכירים בעיריות ובמשרדי הרשויות, חלקם אנשי עסקים חסידיים המחזיקים גם בתעודות זהות ישראליות. בתחילת השבוע דיווחו כלי התקשורת המקומיים במחוז רוקלנד על הסתעפות החקירה ועל כך שבכוונת חוקרי הרשויות לבצע מעצרים גם בקרב הקהילה החרדית. הערב (שעון ישראל) החל גל החיפושים.

    בקהילה החרדית בטוחים כי מדובר בהלשנות של גורמים אינטרסנטים ומבטיחים כי “הכל ייגמר ללא כלום. זה עורבא פרח, חשדות שאין בהם ממש”. מנגד, גורמים ממשלתיים טוענים כי מדובר בפרשה קשה שנחקרה במשך השנים האחרונות והעבירות חמורות ביותר.

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