FBI agents and Rockland district attorney’s office detectives cracked down in Ramapo last week with search warrants demanding that all vendors and yeshivas provide records and account for equipment allegedly bought by religious schools with millions in federal education technology dollars.
Agents arrived at vendors at 21 and 29 Robert Pitt Drive, Monsey; 161 Route 59, Monsey; and 386 Route 59, Airmont, among other locations.
A group of FBI agents were seen outside a yeshiva at 93, 95 and 97 Highview Avenue, all converted single-family homes.
At a yeshiva at 93 College Road, two investigators standing inside a garage that had been converted into a classroom were looking through an opened safe and taking notes. A reporter was asked told to leave the grounds. Students in the backyard tossed a football around as investigators continued their assessments.
FBI and district attorney’s office detectives also were at a yeshiva at 72 Route 306, a dark brick building with a small circular driveway.
The FBI-led raids, which consisted of 22 separate search warrants in Ramapo and are part of an investigation into whether local yeshivas properly spent money obtained through the federal government’s E-Rate Program overseen by the Universal Service Administration and the Federal Communication Commission. The monies became available in 1998 and today totals more than $4 billion annually for computer and Internet access across the nation.
Some raids on were also carried out in the ultra-Orthodox community of Kiryas Joel in Orange County.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said: “Today, the FBI, working with our office, conducted searches in connection with an ongoing fraud investigation. If and when charges are filed, they will eventually become public. This remains an ongoing matter, and we are unable to provide any additional information at this time.”
Over 300 agents and officers were involved in the operation, authorities said. No arrests were made as of yet.
FBI agents were inside a multi-tenant commercial building at 21 and 29 Robert Pitt Drive for several hours while seldom stepping outside. Clarkstown and Spring Valley police were on premise to assist them.
Members of the Orthodox community were pacing the warehouse, talking to each other and inquiring from the media as to what was going on.
The target at that address is Hashomer Alarm Systems and its owner, Peretz Klein, officials said. In a 2013 interview with The Journal News, Klein 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 reimburses 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 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.
At 386 Route 59 in Airmont, about a dozen FBI agents and Ramapo police officers gained access to a suite at the back of the brick office building as they climbed through the window. They questioned a man who was standing outside the suite but no arrests were made.