Joseph Ross was arrested on Wednesday, November 14, 2013 in another chapter of the ongoing Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty scandal that began in August. Ross, the owner of the Century Coverage insurance company, was charged with first-degree grand larceny and money laundering, in addition to other crimes, according to The New York Times. He is accused of helping William Rapfogel, the former chief of the Met Council, steal more than $7 million from the organization. He was released without entering a plea.
Rapfogel, Met Council’s longtime executive director, is alleged to have taken more than $1 million for himself, over the course of more than two decades, according to investigators. They contend that the elaborate kickback scheme began shortly after he became CEO in 1992.
A filing Thursday by the state Attorney General’s Office says Joseph Ross admitted that Rapfogel told him “to make contributions to campaigns of various politicians and to political organizations” using some of the $7 million in kickback money they’d pocketed over the years. Investigators also allege that Rapfogel stuffed a large amount of the money in the bedroom closet of the lower East Side apartment he shares with his wife Judy and also in their house in upstate Monticello. Furthermore, investigators allege that Rapfogel used $100,000 to help his son buy a house and another $27,000 to pay a contractor at his own home, investigators said.
In a joint investigation with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, alleges that Ross and Rapfogel, stole taxpayer and charitable funds from the organization by overbilling, or inflating insurance premiums. According to the criminal complaint, the ill-gotten gains were then allegedly divided among Ross, Rapfogel and another person.
Rapfogel was fired from his CEO post in August and his arrest followed in late September. At the time of Rapfogel’s arrest he was accused of stealing $5 million. With Ross’ arrest on Wednesday, that number now stands at $7 million, according to the Times.
The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has $16.5 million in state contracts, according to the website ReinventAlbany.com. The Met Council has a longstanding relationship with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in particular since Rapfogel’s wife, Judy, is Sheldon Silver’s long-time chief of staff. Judy Rapfogel hired a lawyer in late October in connection with her husband’s criminal case, according to the Daily News, which also reported that she had been interviewed by investigators from the state attorney general’s office. Investigators interviewed Rapfogel’s wife to ask what she knew about the kickback scheme, sources said. According to the News, Rapfogel’s wife claims to have been completely unaware of her husband’s alleged activities.
The AG is investigating Ross’ claim that Rapfogel directed Century Coverage and, more specifically, Ross to use over-payments from the Met Council as political contributions to political office contenders in New York. (Ross is a former board member of the Met Council and close to Rapfogel.) Press accounts detail Ross and Century Coverage’s campaign contributions to NYC mayoral candidates, but not to Sheldon Silver. According to the Attorney General’s transparency site, however, Ross and Century contributed at least $7,000 since 2006 to Silver or SpeakerPAC – which Silver directly controls. And in July of 2008, SpeakerPAC refunded a $4,500 contribution to Century.