“On an unusually warm day in March, dozens of FBI agents and other law enforcement officers raided two dozen yeshivas and businesses that had tapped into a multi-million dollar federal program for financing computers and related technology at educational institutions.
More than 300 agents and officers descended on the ultra-Orthodox private schools and companies, seizing payment records, equipment and other documents as part of an investigation on whether the federal money had been misused. The agents hit additional religious schools in Orange County ultra-Orthodox community of Kiryas Joel and made at least one stop the same day in Brooklyn.
The FBI-led raids, which involved more than 22 separate search warrants in Ramapo, also included detectives with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office and local police departments.
Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and federal agents have been categorizing dozens of boxes of documents and comparing receipts with invoices in their investigation into whether the local yeshivas properly spent money obtained through the federal government’s E-Rate program, overseen by the Universal Service Administration Co. for the Federal Communications Commission. They are trying to determine what was paid for by vendors with the federal money and what was actually received by the schools.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said the public won’t likely hear more until the FBI investigation is completed, and only if wrongdoing is found.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office and the FBI don’t comment on investigations, even those involving raids documented by reporters and witnessed by the public.
Zugibe only offered a minimal update on the investigation into what’s called the federal government’s ‘e-rate’ program. His office is part of an anti-corruption task force that works with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
“The federal/state probe of the E-Rate program conducted by the Rockland County Public Corruption Task Force is ongoing,” Zugibe said. “Cases of this nature require the analysis of voluminous documents and the pursuit of myriad avenues of investigation by teams of attorneys, investigators and forensic auditors. We cannot predict when this complex investigation will be concluded.”
Federal agencies staying silent on an investigation as they work diligently behind closed doors is actually par for the course.
“It’s not unusual for them to take a year or two to look into a white collar or political crime.”
Michael Bongiorno, former Rockland district attorney, on FBI investigations
The results of that raid and other subpoenas for documents didn’t bear fruit, however, until nearly three years later when agents and District Attorney’s Office detectives arrested Ramapo Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and former Deputy Town Attorney Aaron Troodler on securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges. Both men have pleaded not guilty and are currently set for trial this spring.
Former Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno said the slow pace of federal investigations was also something he experienced during his 12 years as the county’s top prosecutor.
“They don’t disclose what’s going on,” Bongiorno said of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “It’s not unusual for them to take a year or two to look into a white collar or political crime. But before they bring a case, they have covered all aspects and are hard for defense attorneys to beat in court.”
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