Lawyer exposes scam in Orthodox Jewish community

Credit: NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images.
A lawyer allegedly made up a false kidnapping story to extort money from a prominent Jewish family. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to a Brooklyn lawyer, a scam in the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn has been exposed.

The victims were the Herzog family, the largest kosher winemakers in the world, according to the New York Daily News.

The family was distributing checks to people collecting donations for yeshivas and charities. The checks would be deposited in the U.S., and then the cash would be taken to Israel.

A senior law enforcement official reportedly told the Daily News that if an organization is not a legitimate charity or if other people are receiving any part of the donation, it’s illegal.

The Herzogs closed their account about a year about when they were tipped off that some of the solicitors may have been illegitimate. This resulted in bounced checks, which had those attempting to cash those checks asking questions.

The Herzog family hired a Satmar Hasid in Williamsburg, Elimelech Horowitz, to look into the issue. He was given cash to settle some of the donation claims.

On May 3, Horowitz claimed he was kidnapped then released by masked men demanding $35,000. Soon after, the Herzogs received a threatening phone message urging them to pay the $35,000.

A male voice in the recording reportedly said, “I know where you live; I know where you work; I know where your family lives.”

A private investigator hired by the family set them up with armed security and referred them to George Farkas, a lawyer with experience in the Orthodox Jewish community, including the case of Nechemya Weberman, convicted of sex abuse last year.

Farkas reportedly could immediately tell the abduction story was fraudulent.

The first indication was the caller mispronouncing “Shabbat,” the Jewish day of rest. The recipients of the Herzog money were Jewish, so it was unlikely they would mispronounce a Jewish holy day.

Farkas called Horowitz to his office, and told the Daily News that Horowitz confessed within 20 minutes: There had been no kidnapping, and Horowitz had been pocketing the money he’d been given to settle claims.

“He hired some schmuck on the corner to make the threats,” Farkas told the News.

The Herzog family gave a statement expressing sadness “that we were victimized for no other reason than our charitable generosity.”

But the Herzogs are reportedly not pressing charges because Horowitz promised to pay back the money he extorted.

Another source reportedly told the Daily News there may be other victims scammed by solicitors from Israel who hire drivers to use false sad stories to solicit money from wealthy Jewish families. The checks are subsequently cashed by a yeshiva or charity, the driver gets a cut and the rest is sent back to Israel, according to the Daily News report.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



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