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.
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.
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.