By Mariel S. Clark
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Federal prosecutors have charged 17 people with ripping-off millions from an organization that makes reparations to Holocaust victims.
The individuals charged allegedly defrauded the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which is responsible for processing and distributing financial aid to Holocaust survivors, out of $42.5 million over the course of more than 15 years, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"If ever there was a cause that you would hope and expect would be immune from base greed and criminal fraud, it would be the Claims Conference, which every day assists thousands of poor and elderly victims of Nazi persecution," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement on Tuesday.
Six of the 17 charged worked for the Claims Conference and allegedly approved more than 5,500 fraudulent applications and then divided the money between themselves, prosecutors said.
Many of the people who cashed in on the bogus applications were born after World War II and one person was not even Jewish, according to prosecutors. All of them were from Brooklyn.
"Each of the defendants played a role in creating, filing and processing fraudulent claims on behalf of non-qualifying applicants -- and dividing up the spoils," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk in a statement. "Funds established and financed by the German government to aid Holocaust survivors were siphoned off by the greedy, and not paid out, as intended, to the worthy."
The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and some were charged with money laundering, witness tampering and mail fraud as well. They face 20 years in prison for each count and fines ranging from $250,000 to $500,000.