Judy Rapfogel sat in on pork-barrel meetings

William Rapfogel, who led the Metropolitan Council on William Rapfogel, who led the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty before resigning in August, was arraigned in Manhattan on felony charges of grand larceny, money laundering, criminal tax fraud and conspiracy, among others. (Sept. 24, 2013) Photo Credit: Marcus Santos

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ALBANY -- When the State Assembly delegation from Manhattan would hold its annual gathering to divvy up pork-barrel spending, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was always a preferred cause.

Sitting in on those meetings was Judy Rapfogel, longtime chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and the wife of William Rapfogel, who led Met Council for two decades until being indicted this week in an insurance scheme.

Judy Rapfogel didn't speak up in favor of sending state grant money to the nonprofit social services group her husband ran, nor did she pressure legislators to support it, said several former Assembly members who participated. But she represented Silver at the meetings where funding decisions were made and sometimes voted on his behalf. Everyone knew the Rapfogels and knew that Silver was a Met Council champion, they said.

"Never did Judy or the speaker ask me to give money to Met Council," said one former Assembly member who asked not to be identified. "Now, did I, as a political person, think it was in my best interests to support Met Council? Sure."

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman charged William Rapfogel this week with multiple counts of grand larceny, money laundering, criminal tax fraud and conspiracy. Schneiderman alleged that William Rapfogel conspired with Century Coverage Corp., a Valley Stream-based insurance agency, to overcharge Met Council for insurance payments for about 20 years and pocket the difference.

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Schneiderman said William Rapfogel personally raked in at least $1 million and that more than $5 million was stolen from the charity. William Rapfogel's attorney has said that neither Judy Rapfogel nor Silver "knew anything about" the scheme.

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It's unclear if prosecutors will focus on Met Council's government grants as part of the William Rapfogel probe. Schneiderman said the investigation was part of "Operation Integrity," a joint venture with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli that focuses on rooting out corruption dealing with public funds.

Met Council has long enjoyed generous political support from many corners, not just the State Assembly. It has received more than $26 million in state grants since 2008. That includes about $3 million in spending requested by the Assembly. Over roughly the same time, the New York City Council earmarked about $10 million in "member items" -- or pork-barrel spending -- to the charity, records show.

Until the disbursement of member items changed a few years ago, the Manhattan Assembly Democratic delegation met annually to decide what organizations would receive grants, former legislators said. They said they put in safeguards, such as requiring that at least three members support any one spending item, so that no legislator could fund a pet cause the others found questionable.

"Judy would come to the meetings to represent [Silver]," said another former legislator, who said most were already inclined to support Met Council because of its history of service to the needy. "She didn't pressure anyone. But nobody had to be pressured to know Met Council was a big deal to [Silver]."

No one asked whether Judy Rapfogel should participate in such meetings, which were usually held over lunch or dinner, they said. She was the lone non-legislator at the meeting, they added.

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"It wasn't that people weren't aware of Judy and Willie," said a third former legislator, who said Met Council did not receive special treatment. "But people thought of them as separate entities. It never played into our conversations."

A Silver aide declined to comment . Previously, the longtime speaker said he was "stunned" and "saddened" by the revelations about William Rapfogel.

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