Indictment: Money Was Earmarked For Special Needs Preschool Students

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Four men, including a rabbi, have been accused in a scheme to steal millions of dollars earmarked for preschoolers with special needs.

Police handcuffed Rabbi Samuel Hiller of Far Rockaway, in Queens on Tuesday. He later appeared in court, CBS 2’s John Slattery reported.

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Hiller was assistant director of the Island Child Development Center in Far Rockaway, a now-closed and gated store front. While open, the center was a special needs preschool for students, ages 3 to 5, Slattery reported.

The other three men, Ira Kurman, Roy Hoffmann and Daniel Laniado, were an executive director, an independent auditor, and an investor, respectively.

The 42-count indictment of grand larceny charges the four men with stealing $12.4 million in city and state education funds between 2005 and 2012, a theft allegedly picked up on by state auditors.

As 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit found all kinds of improprieties.

“They basically overcharged and falsified records, and then took the money and spent it on other purposes that were personally enriching to these individuals,” DiNapoli said.

It’s charged that Rabbi Hiller diverted $8 million to religious camps and Orthodox schools, including the private girls’ academy where he worked as principal.

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One of Hiller’s Far Rockaway neighbors told Slattery she didn’t believe the accusations.

“I think he’s a wonderful man. I think he’s innocent until proven guilty,” she said.

In court, the rabbi was seen weeping with his head down, Slattery reported.

“At this point I don’t know what he did. All I know is what it says in the indictment, in discovery. He pleaded not guilty,” attorney Marc Agnifilo said.

It’s further charged that the rabbi diverted $30,000 of the money to have plumbing work done on his home.

Bail for the four men ranged from $200,000 to $500,000. Three posted bond immediately, Slattery reported.

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