The US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York is now reportedly looking into the attempted sale of the Home of of Sages nursing home/synagogue by Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, a Gerrer hasid who allegedly put together a fake board, used to to take over the home on paper, and then sell it to a politically connected developer.
The Observer reports:
…the Observer can confirm that the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York is now looking into the case. Having read the Observer’s story, which was picked up in Curbed, The Real Deal, TheLoDownNY, and elsewhere, witnesses are now being interviewed. The Observer has also heard, but has not been able to confirm, that the Attorney General’s office, which has been very tough on abuses by nonprofits, is taking a second look. (A spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman declined to comment on this case.)
The Observer is now able to shed additional light on one puzzling aspect—just how this piece of property attracted the attention of Peter Fine in the first place. According to Mr. Fine’s spokesman, Mike McKeon, “Peter has been involved in the community his entire life, with family connections that go back to his childhood. He first become involved in development opportunities in the community in 2007, when he was interested in the Henry Street Settlement House project, which didn’t move forward at that time in light of the financial meltdown in 2008. In 2008, he had his first conversation about the Home of Sages project with Mendel Aschkenazi. He was introduced to Mendel by Heshy Jacob back in 2008.”
After declining to issue a routine adjournment last week, the judge suddenly recused himself this morning—24 hours before the planned hearing.
Mendel Aschkenazi, who was arrested and sued by the Attorney General in an unrelated nursing home fraud last year, died shortly thereafter. He was the son of Samuel Aschkenazi. According to the New York Post story that ran the day after last week’s Observer story, both Samuel and Mendel Aschkenazi were drawing salaries from charity moneys the Home of Sages collected—charity that amounted to “$700,000 to $800,000 a year to take care of elderly rabbis.”
The introduction of Harold “Heshy” Jacob into the mix is interesting, as well. Mr. Jacob has for years been characterized as the third musketeer of the Lower East Side, with the first two being Willie Rapfogel, who is already in prison, and Sheldon Silver, the former Speaker of the Assembly who is under indictment.
Until the Attorney General and US Attorney disrupted their trio, Mssrs. Rapfogel, Silver and Jacob ran the Lower East Side with a hegemony that is difficult for outsiders to appreciate. With unquestioned political power—Mr. Silver was universally considered the second most powerful man in the state after whoever was governor—the three of them also ruled over much domestic life. Mr. Jacob’s juice derived from the fact that he was the general manager of the 2700 units of housing that comprise East River Housing Cooperation, Hillman Houses and Amalgamated Housing. (Worth noting: the fellow who ran them before Mr. Jacob was Ralph Lippman, the father of Judge Jonathan Lippman, the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals).
According to one Jewish activist with long connection to the neighborhood, “Basically, if you were a Jew living in the Lower East Side, Heshy Jacob literally controlled your fate. He could get you an apartment and he could throw you out, he could get your elderly relative a place near you or he could make things difficult. Plus he was Shelly’s best friend. He’s also the president of Hatzolah [the EMT crew comprised entirely of Orthodox Jewish volunteers] and on the Board of the United Jewish Counsel on the Lower East Side, and on the board of Bialystoker synagogue.” [The Bialystoker, where Mr. Silver worships, is right next to Home of Sages.]
Mr. Jacob, who is generally regarded as an effective manager of the 2700 units over which he presides, is a much-feared—and loved—presence in the neighborhood in which he was born and raised. Several people the Observer spoke to for this story expressed both admiration for Mr. Jacob’s years of service to the neighborhood and concern that he had the ability and inclination to retaliate if provoked. Mr. Jacob himself has been clear about the power the trio wielded. He told the Forward in 2013, “We put in time and effort for the people. It’s not that we simply are despots.”…