The family of Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi man imprisoned in Bolivia, has been caught paying people to fill the gallery at today's Congressional hearing called to criticze the State Department's supposed inaction on the case. The paid stooges were recruited through an ad on Craig's List to fill a "ballroom" in Washington. Apparently placed by an Ostriecher family member, it was allegedly placed on Craig's List in coordination with Congressman Chris Smith's (R-NJ) office. Smith is the Congressman who arranged the hearing and who has, apparently with the cooperation of Ostreicher's family its PR firm 5WPR, tried to turn a Human Rights case into an anti-Obama sideshow. Evidence shows the State Department has tried to help Ostreicher.
Originally published at 6:02 pm CDT 6-5-2012
A person claiming to be a member of the family of Jacob Ostriecher, a haredi man imprisoned in Bolivia, placed an ad in Craig's List Sunday for stooges to fill a Washington D.C. ballroom Wednesday. Except the 'ballroom' turns out to be the gallery of a Congressional hearing room where Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is holding a hearing into Ostreicher's case.
US News and World Report's Washington Whispers blog reports:
The nonprofit jobs section of D.C.'s Craiglist put an odd ad out on Sunday.
"Looking to fill a ballroom event (Capital hill)...paying 25.00...Any race, female prefered."
When Whispers E-mailed the posting, a "Jack Wolcowitz" responded that the ballroom event is actually a congressional hearing for Jacob Ostreicher, an Orthodox Jewish businessman who was arrested in Bolivia without being charged last year. Wolcowitz told Whispers he is a family member of Ostreicher's.
He was compelled to write the ad, he said, after the office of New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith told the family that if the hearing room is full "it can give off more of an impression." Smith chairs the House panel overseeing international human rights.
'Wolcowitz' told US News and World Report that he already had 25 people paid to come to hearing. He plans to have 30 paid people there, he said.
'Wolcowitz' also told US News that Smith's office told the family: "Don't make this a Jewish event. It's better to make it look libertarian. And try to get as many women as you can."
Smith's office denied telling Ostreicher's family any of that, but did say it told the Ostreichers to fill the hearing room because it would look better.
Smith is in a heated re-election battle, and he is evidently using this case to play to the Republican base – which in his case includes much of the haredi community of Lakewood, New Jersey – by turning this into an anti-Obama sideshow, apparently with the consent of Ostreicher's family.
So who is "Jack Wolcowitz"?
There is a Jack Wolcowitz who is a Bobover hasid based in Brooklyn. He deals in real estate and is, according a Brooklyn source of mine who knows him casually, a wealthy man. And he is also Ostreicher's cousin.
But I can't help but think this scam also has the fingerprints of 5WPR, the often sleazy PR firm hired to by the Ostreicher family to push the case, all over it.
In an email exchange with me last week, 5WPR executives denied they were involved with turning this into an anti-Obama sideshow.
But as much as I'd like to believe them, the history of 5WPR, and the idea to hire stooges that are women who look like (or are) non-Jews, makes that difficult.
Update 9:32 pm CDT – It turns out tomorrow won't be the first time the Ostreichers have used paid ringers to influence media coverage and fill out crowds.
On May 3rd, the family held a rally near the Bolivian Mission to the UN in Manhattan. 5WPR's Juda Engelmayer organized and ran the rally.
At the rally, two non-Jewish Hispanic men held signs supporting Ostreicher. Tonight I was told that they were asked by a haredi man to explain why they had come. One spoke no English and the other spoke only a few words of broken English, and they couldn't answer the question.
But a male member of the extended Ostreicher family and a hasidic man jumped in to answered for them.
According to omeone who was there and who witnessed and heard the incident, the Ostreicher family memeber and the hasid said, "They're here because we brought them here."
"Why?" the haredi questioner asked, "Do they work for Jacob Ostreicher? Do they know him?"
"No," the Ostreicher family member and the hasid allegedly replied, "We paid them to come."
I'm also told that many of the haredim at the rally appeared to be paid ringers who knew nothing about the case, and who stood there waiting to be told what to say and what to do, and otherwise showing no emotion.
And that matches my impression at the time – an impression I think I mentioned to 5WPR then.
This doesn't prove 5WPR knew the crowd had been padded with ringers, but it doesn't exactly look good for the ethically challenged flacks.