Their names contained keywords associated with helping Israelis and others in need.
But according to New York’s state attorney general, 19 organizatons tied to four individuals were fraudulent set-ups intended to aggressively hoodwink Israel supporters into donations that were mostly used for their own benefit.
In State Supreme Court in Brooklyn Thursday, Eric Schneiderman alleged the four “brazenly abused the generosity of the public” by withdrawing more than $2.5 million raised in donations for personal and family expenses from 2007 to 2013.
The organizations included Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Magen Israel, Israel Leukemia and Cancer Society, Our Children and Zaka Israel. They were not affiliated with similarly named organizations.
The defendants named in the complaint, which was obtained by The Jewish Week, are Yaakov Weingarten, 52 and his wife, Rivka, 52, and two of his employees, Simon Weiss, 28, and David Yifat, 66.
“Mr. Weingarten took these donations and spent them on himself and his family by converting the charities’ web of bank accounts into his own personal piggy bank,” Schneiderman said. “My office has no tolerance for this kind of abuse and we will spare no effort to put a stop to it.”
The investigation was prompted by complaints from suspicious people who were contacted for donations. The court action is civil but the AG’s office has not ruled out the possibility of seeking criminal charges.
Weingarten’s lawyer, Sheldon Eisenberger, did not respond to a message left by the Times with his receptionist.
Only a small amount of the donated money actually wound up in Israel, the Times reported. The defendants bounced at least 2,100 checks, and wasted $65,000 of charitable donations in overdraft fees, Schneiderman charged. The lawsuit asked the court to close some charities managed by the defendants; it did not immediately address the issue of repayment.
Schneiderman said the defendants spent the money on home mortgages, the remodeling of a second home, car loans, dentist visits, video rentals and a trip to the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, among other expenses.
The lawsuit accuses the defendants of “preying on a vulnerable public’s charitable instincts, and in particular the charitable impulses that many persons of the Jewish faith have for Israel.”
Among the organizations named in the lawsuit are Bnei Torah, Magen Israel and the Israel Leukemia and Cancer Society. Only 2 of the 19 entities were even registered in Israel, Schneiderman said. The solicitations also used “doctored photographs” of workers and equipment belonging to actual Israeli emergency organizations, the complaint said.