In a somewhat surprising turn of events, it was recently announced that City Councilmember David Greenfield who represents constituents in Borough Park, Midwood and parts of Bensonhurst will be departing from his influential role on the city council at the end of the year. Political pundits and those immersed in the inner circle of New York City politics had thought that it was a safe bet to assume that Greenfield would seek re-election as his star has risen considerably since entering office.
But Greenfield has other plans. In an interesting career move, the man who had first won his seat in the city council in the heavily Jewish 44th Council District in 2010 will now assume the role of executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. A non-profit organization that bills itself as one that provides succor for indigent and financially challenged Jews and their families, the organization is still trying to emerge from a public relations imbroglio that it found itself mired in. In 2014, its long time executive director, William Rapfogel was arrested and sentenced to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the organization’s coffers. Since that juncture, the social service organization that has spent more than $110 million a year, mostly from government funds, on home health care and other services for older people and the poor and has descended into a tailspin that seems almost irreparable.
While serving in the city council Greenfield became chairman of the council’s Land Use Committee (one of the most powerful council committees) which holds sway over the city’s zoning regulations.
“The New York Building Congress congratulates City Councilmember David Greenfield on being named the executive director of the Metropolitan Council of Jewish Poverty,” said New York Building Congress President and CEO Carlo A. Scissura. “As chairman of the powerful Land Use Committee, David has expertly charted a course that combines a vision for economic growth with the need to safeguard and improve the quality of life of all residents throughout the five boroughs. We look forward to continuing our strong relationship with David as he embarks of this important new chapter in his career.”
When asked for comment on his new position at the Met Council and what steps he plans to take to extricate the organization from the public relations quagmire it finds itself in, Councilman Greenfield declined to issue statements to the media at this juncture. He did however tell the Jewish Voice that he would be more than glad to provide responses to the questions that the publication posed to him after he assumes his position at the Met Council.
Greenfield’s predecessors at the Met Council include Alan Schoor, the former senior VP for Operations at Touro College, who had served the beleaguered organization in its highest leadership role for two years before abruptly parting ways with the Met Council. Schoor had replaced David M. Frankel who had previously served under former NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as the Commissioner of the Department of Finance. No reasons were given for the relatively short stint that Schoor did at the Met Council or what precisely was accomplished during his tenure. Frankel was appointed as CEO and Executive Director of the Met Council immediately after the organization had terminated Rapfogel’s employ in the summer of 2013. Among charity industry insiders a palpable feeling of optimism prevailed concerning Frankel’s tenure at the Met Council, largely due to his expertise in working at the top echelons of city government. No reason has been given for his departure either.
“I can tell you from personal experience that Alan Schoor had a zero personality,” intoned David Ben Hooren, the publisher of the Jewish Voice. “I met him several times at the annual Met Council fundraising dinners and tried to engage him in conversation in my capacity as a publisher of a New York Jewish newspaper. He snubbed me and others and remained reticent in a nasty kind of way. The truth is that the attendance at the last several Met Council dinners has been dramatically declining and the very last one that was held was a complete disaster. I truly believe that the failure of the Met Council in terms of their transparency to their donors is somehow related to its ineffective leadership,” he added.
Rapfogel had been at the helm of the Met Council since 1993 and his dismissal came on the heels of an internal investigation that was predicated on an anonymous tip. According to a NYT report, the probe unearthed evidence that pointed to Rapfogel’s scheme with the organization’s insurance broker to pad insurance payments and split the surplus.
In May of 2015, the Jewish Voice had reported that Rapfogel’s predecessor, former Met Council CEO David Cohen was sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to make a restitution payment of $650,000 to the organization after he too was charged with scamming the nonprofit out of approximately $9 million.
Cohen had originally pled guilty to Grand Larceny in the First Degree (a class B felony), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a class D felony) and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree (a class E felony). As part of his guilty plea, Cohen admitted that he conspired with co-defendant Rapfogel and others to steal from Met Council through an elaborate kickback scheme lasting from 1992 to 2013.
Cohen apparently concocted the scheme with Joseph Ross of Century Coverage Corporation in 1992, to have the organization pay extra larger insurance premiums and receive kickbacks in return. In addition to Rapfogel’s involvement in the scheme, the Met Council’s former chief financial officer, Herb Friedman was also implicated.
According to unnamed sources close to the Met Council, Cohen had left America to live in Israel as the kickbacks were being diverted to him. He then moved back to America and several months prior to the public emergence of the Rapfogel scandal, Cohen was appointed executive director of the volunteer Hatzolah ambulance service.
According to officials, Rapfogel, who was getting as much as $30,000 a month through the scam, was sentenced to 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison, and had to pay $3 million in restitution to the Met Council.
The Jewish Voice made repeated attempts to contact the Met Council for comment on this article, however phone calls were not returned.
Those sources close to the case have often pondered the role that US Attorney Eric Schneiderman played in effectively prosecuting this case. Many wonder if his efforts towards rooting out fiscal malfeasance at the Met Council reached any real pinnacle of success. Sources say that a certain modicum of doubt stubbornly remains in the aftermath of the case. Many hold the belief that if insurance companies were conspiring to steal money in the Met Council scandal, then perhaps such building vendors as maintenance workers, painters, carpenters and electricians and others were also guilty of the same charge, yet escaped prosecution due to a lackluster performance by the US attorney for the State of New York.
The Met Council, was founded in 1972 after two studies reported 300,000 Jewish New Yorkers were living in poverty. The council received support from the American Jewish Congress and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York to begin its programs. Although founded to help the Jewish poor, today Met Council’s services help all New Yorkers, regardless of age, sex, religion, race or ethnicity.
Moreover, the organization works with 25 local Jewish Community Councils and is affiliated with the UJA-Federation of New York. Met Council also partners with Food Bank For New York City, City Harvest and Masbia.
Concerns in the Jewish community have been voiced over the glaring absence of consistent and committed leadership since the 2014 scandal that saw the Met Council’s reputation severely tarnished when its executive director was arrested on corruption charges.
The Met Council (which is a 501c3 – not for profit corporation) is in possession of a substantial portfolio of buildings located at a variety of venues throughout the New York City metropolitan area as indicated on their web site. These residential buildings were originally financed by both the federal and state government in order to provide adequate housing for the elderly, homeless, needy and disabled communities. According to sources close to the Met Council the total worth of all the buildings in question is approximately $1 billion.
In Manhattan alone, the Met Council owns nine residential apartment buildings.
Their locations are as follows:
385 Third Avenue (between East 27th & East 28th Streets) (opened in 2008)
49 units (10 studios, 38 one bedrooms and a live-in super)
Located in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan, this residence was developed using federal low-income tax credits and thus serves low-income senior citizens.
The Mira Lederer Salomon Residence (opened in 2000)
141 East 23rd Street (at Lexington Ave.)
19 units (1 studio, 18 1 BRs)
This special property is a 10-story 19-unit building. The building has a backyard where the residents congregate, have meetings and barbecues. It is located just a few blocks from Gramercy Park and Madison Square Park as well as many east side hospitals
228 East 46th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) (opened in 2009)
18 units (18 one bedrooms)
This residence contains 18 one bedroom apartments in a 6 story building targeted to moderate-income elderly. It is located between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
332 East 22nd Street (between First & Second Avenues) (opened in 2009)
14 units (1studio, 13 one bedrooms)
This 7 story building is located on a quiet block between 1st and 2nd Avenues in the Gramercy Park area. It has 14 one bedroom apartments, with 2 apartments per floor.
The Linda and Jerome Spitzer Residence (opened in 2000)
351 East 61st Street (between First & Second Avenues)
53 units (14 studios, 34 one BRs and 4 two BRs, live-in super)
This is a 53-unit building for seniors located on 61st Street near First Avenue in Manhattan.
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Senior Residence (opened in 2002)
171 Lexington Avenue (between East 31st & East 32nd Streets)
41-units (19 studios, 19 one bedrooms, 2 2BRs and a live-in super)
Located on Lexington Avenue near 31st Street, this is a 12-story building
The Linda and Jerome Spitzer Residence II
231 East 77th Street (between Second & Third Avenues) (opened in 2008)
12-units (11 one bedrooms and 1 studio)
This six-story building is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
334 East 92nd Street, (between First & Second Avenues)
23-units (22 one bedrooms and 1 studio)
This property is on a great tree-lined block on the Upper East Side with apartments that are quite spacious. It’s not far to the train or beautiful Carl Schurz Park.
351 East 54th Street (between First & Second Avenues) (opened in 2002)
12 units (all studios)
This 7-story building is located on a quiet block between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
It is interesting to note that many of the aforementioned residential buildings are not located in Jewish neighborhoods and approximately 85% of them are occupied by non-Jewish residents.
Throughout the years, the Met Council has been queried as to the precise number of destitute Jews they actually serve in terms of providing housing and other basic needs. Moreover, such thorny questions concerning the proper management of the string of buildings owned by the Met Council have also been raised as well as questions related to whether building vendors or insurance companies are in any way associated with or connected to any of the organization’s board members.
Because the Met Council is a not-for-profit corporation it receives more than ample tax benefits. The next decade will see the mortgages on all of the buildings that the Met Council currently owns all paid off. As a result of this mortgage fulfillment the organization will find themselves in a financially favorable position. The lingering question however is whether the newly appointed CEO, David Greenfield is up for the task of managing the buildings in a manner that is beyond reproach.
A close source to the Met Council and their operations who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that “one has to look and see who is managing the buildings belonging to the Met Council and to find out if these people are in any way connected to the Met council board.” In terms of the ostensible fiduciary corruption that rocked the organization, the anonymous source is of the belief that the organization must be way more accountable to their vendors. He proffers an estimate of $10 to $15 million that the organization probably had stolen from them during Rapfogel’s lengthy tenure.
A more positive outlook on the future of the Met Council and David Greenfield’s position there was offered by Rabbi Avrohom Hecht, the executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Canarsie, a neighborhood organization that works with the Met Council.
“David Greenfield is a really creative and very bright person and I know that he is totally dedicated to seeing the Met Council rebuild and grow,” said Rabbi Hecht.
He added, “I think David is leaving the city council because the job of leading the Met Council is both a challenging and rewarding one and David has always risen to the occasion when presented with formidable challenges. He also knows the remarkable work that the Met Council has done in past; how many lives it has positively impacted and how many financially destitute people it has saved and he wants to see it even do a better job in the future.”
In terms of responding to charges of past corruption within its ranks, Rabbi Hecht said that the Met Council is currently “more transparent than it ever was.” He added that a team of prodigious monitors along with an impeccable ethics board have been installed to ensure that a devolution of venalities of sorts does not occur.
“The Met Council has been bringing in new and young leadership; ideological people who really want this organization to thrive and make a difference in the quality of life of the people that they serve,” said Rabbi Hecht.
By: David Bennett