A special assistant to the Rockland district attorney who served as a liaison to the county’s ultra-Orthodox community surrendered his badge after The revealed he obtained straw donations for a political candidate four years ago while an FBI investigation was underway.
Rabbi Zalman Beck, known as a political operative in Rockland County, obtained straw donor checks for state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s mayoral campaign while Smith was under FBI investigation.
Smith and five others were ultimately convicted of various crimes in the sting.
Beck was appointed to the volunteer post in 2008, Rockland DA Thomas Zugibe said.
Federal prosecutors said at Smith’s sentencing last July that Beck obtained straw donor checks for Smith, who was convicted of trying to bribe his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot as a Republican.
“Rabbi Beck will be surrendering his credentials in the best interests of the district attorney’s office,” Zugibe said Thursday after checking on the allegations with the public corruption task force, a joint operation between his office and the FBI.
“Until brought to our attention by a Journal News reporter, we were unaware of any of these allegations pertaining to Rabbi Beck,” he added during an interview Friday. Beck, who surrendered the badge Thursday, could not be reached for comment.
Federal prosecutors have said Beck wasn’t cooperating or knowingly assisting the government during the FBI sting, meaning he wouldn’t be authorized to obtain straw donations for Smith in 2012 or engage in any other illegal activity.
When asked why Beck was not charged for obtaining straw donor checks, Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment Friday.
Zugibe initially defended Beck when asked whether his badge would be revoked.
“His efforts during the past eight years have enabled my prosecutors to build trust within these highly insular communities, resulting in greater reporting of criminal conduct by residents, including incidents of sexual abuse,” Zugibe said.
Zugibe declined to provide Beck’s job description, any qualifications he possessed or any permissible uses of the badge.
“Rabbi Beck has also made great strides in educating the communities to ensure compliance with our laws. He has proven to be a respected and effective asset to law enforcement in Rockland County.”
Beck is said to work behind-the-scenes, helping political campaigns. For instance, he helped state Sen. David Carlucci gain support in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Beck and Moses Stern
It remains unclear why Beck helped Moses Stern, an FBI criminal cooperator, in the Smith sting.
Beck introduced Stern to Smith and Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin, who was convicted of selling her vote on a proposed community center and catering hall. Stern had defrauded Citigroup out of $126 million and was working with the government, hoping to shave time off a potential 455-year prison sentence.
Beck also vouched for Stern the night before Stern met with state Sen. David Carlucci in 2013, attempting to gain funding for a project during the sting. Carlucci, instead, referred Stern to the regional economic development committee, according to Politico, which covered Carlucci’s testimony in January 2015.
Federal court records show Stern provided Smith $27,000 in straw donor checks in 2012, including checks from Joseph and Esther Markowtiz of Monsey and one from an FBI account. Beck obtained at least some of the checks, prosecutors said at Smith’s sentencing.
“Rabbi Beck is the guy who got the straw donor checks,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Bloom at the sentencing. “He’s the guy who went out and got them. That’s on tape.”
Sen. Carlucci’s testimony
Carlucci testified during Smith’s trial that Beck called him the night before he met with Stern in February 2013 to vouch for Stern.
“I don’t remember the specifics, but in general, it was that he was a good person, a stand-up character, and if there was any way that I could be helpful to him, I should be,” Carlucci testified.
Beck assisted Carlucci’s 2010 campaign, helping him get out the vote in the Orthodox Jewish community and put up lawn signs, Carlucci testified.
The allegations against Beck while investigating the New York Jewish Communications Channel, an Orthodox Jewish radio show and communications network through which the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI targeted politicians seeking the ultra-Orthodox bloc vote.
Stern used the show and its literature to gain credibility with FBI targets, at least some of whom were given straw donations by Joseph Markowitz, who is listed as registering the corporation with the state, and his wife Esther.
The NYJCC claimed to be a major force in the 2010 elections, representing a bloc of over 100,000 Jewish voters and acting as a channel for elected officials to communicate with the Jewish community.
It’s unclear how the Markowitzes are involved in the Smith sting and whether they were knowingly assisting the government.
Along with Smith, they are listed as donating to ex-New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, Rockland Family Court Judge Sherri Eisenpress’ 2011 campaign and to Eric Schneiderman, both before and after Schneiderman, a former state senator, was elected state attorney general.
All four were radio guests. Halloran was also convicted in the sting. Like Smith, he received a donation from an FBI account, court records show.
Earlier this month, The Journal News reported that Stern testified he helped elect Eisenpress by using her money to bankroll an illegal campaign finance scheme and by bribing a public official.
Her campaign has denied any wrongdoing and Zugibe has said an investigation found no evidence of criminality. Beck was a supporter of Eisenpress’ campaign.
A court order still bars the media and public from seeing much of the material prosecutors turned over to the defense regarding the Smith sting operation. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas issued the protective order at prosecutors’ request in 2013, prohibiting the release of records, including many conversations between Stern and Beck that weren’t entered into evidence.
Stern has helped the FBI investigate more than 30 other targets.
Releasing the material could jeopardize “ongoing investigations into potentially serious criminal conduct,” he wrote.