By Victor Ochieng
Four men were on Tuesday indicted after they were accused of stealing millions of dollars meant for a pre-school for disabled children.
Rabbi Samuel Hiller and his friends Ira Kurman, Daniel Laniado and Roy Hoffman of the Island Child Development Center (ICDC) were arrested over allegations that they siphoned off a whopping $12.4 million from the taxpayer-funded institution’s $27 million budget for seven years between 2005 and 2012. The stolen money was spent on the four’s personal interests among other business ventures.
“The public funds provided to [ICDC] were earmarked for special needs pre-schoolers with disabilities but instead were allegedly used by the defendants for their own purposes,” said Queens DA Richard A. Brown.
An investigation into the school’s funds commenced in July 2012 as a routine audit, coming after the state controller’s office informed Kurman of the impending audit on Special Education Itinerant Teachers funds. When the time finally came and auditors arrived at the institution, Kurman reportedly fled with account records.
“These individuals allegedly stole millions of taxpayer dollars meant for special needs children in a brazen disregard for common decency and the law,” said state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
ICDC is among the largest providers of special education for disabled children in New York, providing services primarily within the Orthodox Jewish Communities living in Far Rockaway in Queens, Willamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. Their services target children aged between 3 and 5 years.
The four were arraigned on 42 counts, facing several different charges, including grand larceny, identity theft, falsifying records among others, said Brown.
Hiller, 56, reportedly spent up to $8 million to fund other religious schools with no links to ICDC. Part of the money was spent on funding Orthodox youth summer camps, with $3 million reportedly channeled to B’nos Bais Yaakov Academy, a girls’ private school headed by Hiller himself. In addition, $30,000 was allegedly spent on plumbing work at his home in Elvira Avenue.
Kurman, 52, was accused of expending over $143,000 on loans to community members, with part of the repayment made through services such as catering work offered during his daughter’s wedding.
Hoffman, 50, spent $300,000 of the siphoned money on improving his Woodmere home and extended $15,000 to his wife for personal use.
Laniado, 41, was accused of cashing over $1 million worth of ICDC checks at different locations. The said checks bore names of businesses or persons who hadn’t given their prior consent to Laniado to cash the checks.
More than $11.4 million civil forfeiture action was filed against the four and Hiller’s school and Camp Malka had already repaid about $1 million.