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Rabbi Among Workers Who Stole $12M from Special Needs School, DA Says

By Katie Honan | May 13, 2014 5:04pm
 The suspects worked at a center for special needs children in Far Rockaway.
The suspects worked at a center for special needs children in Far Rockaway.
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Queens District Attorney's Office

FAR ROCKAWAY — Four men — including a rabbi — who ran and were connected to a center that assisted special-needs preschoolers stole millions of public dollars and diverted them to their family and friends, using the loot for home repairs and to fund other schools and camps in the area, according to the Queens District Attorney.

Ira Kurman, 52, of Hewlett, LI; Roy Hoffmann, 50, of Woodmere, LI; Daniel Laniado, 41, of Brooklyn and Rabbi Samuel Hiller, 56, of Far Rockaway stole $12.4 million of the $27 million provided to them through the Island Child Development Center, on Cornaga Avenue, which provides services to young children with educational and physical needs, according to DA Richard Brown.

The city and state money was taken between 2005 and 2012, according to the DA.

Kurman was a former executive director who left the ICDC in 2012 after being informed of an audit of the center, according to the DA. He took the books and records with him, which led auditors to refer the center to the Queens DA, they said.

Hiller, the assistant director at ICDC, allegedly diverted $8 million to many religious schools and camps not affiliated with ICDC, including $3 million to an all-girls private school in Far Rockaway that he runs, the district attorney said.

He also allegedly sent money to an Orthodox summer camp upstate and a Far Rockaway day camp, paying for Kosher meals, carpeting and salaries for staff.

And he spent $30,000 to pay for plumbing work on his Far Rockaway home, the DA said.

According to Brown, Hoffman, who was hired by the ICDC as an independent auditor — a state requirement — gave thousands of dollars to his wife, a make-up retailer, and used money to redesign his Long Island home.

Laniado, who the DA said was an "investor" in the center and owns a Kosher supermarket in Borough Park, Brooklyn, allegedly cashed more than $1 million at check cashing locations.

"This investigation makes clear that frauds of this nature will inevitably be exposed and rooted out and that those who engage in them will be brought to justice," said DA Brown.

The alleged fraud was revealed through an investigation by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. 

The four men face 42 counts of grand larceny, first-degree identity theft and other charges. They were arraigned on Tuesday and held until a July 7 court date. They face 25 years in prison if convicted.

The DA's office has also filed a civil forfeiture against all four defendants, and are seeking more than $11 million in proceeds they say were illegally retained. 

Lawyers for Hiller and Kurman could not be reached for comment. A lawyer for Laniado declined to comment.

Jacob Laufer, who represents Hoffmann, said that his client is a "good man."

"He's a decent man and at this point he is presumed innocent," Laufer said.