AG Schneiderman probes power broker with ties to Silver

William Rapfogel speaks during the Met Council's 40th William Rapfogel speaks during the Met Council's 40th anniversary celebration in Manhattan on April 25, 2013. Photo Credit: Michael Priest

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ALBANY - State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday he's investigating an influential New York power broker with ties to state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The probe focuses on William Rapfogel, who has long led the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which relies in part on state and city dollars to provide food, shelter and care to thousands of New Yorkers. He is also the husband of Judy Rapfogel, longtime chief of staff to Silver (D-Manhattan).

Monday morning, the council issued a statement saying it terminated Rapfogel after it became "aware of . . . financial irregularities and apparent misconduct in connection with the organization's insurance policies."

Shortly thereafter, Schneiderman's office confirmed a criminal investigation is underway. "This matter is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation conducted in conjunction with the Office of the Comptroller as part of Operation Integrity," Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera said in an email.

Rapfogel issued a statement saying he regretted his "mistakes" and said he'd "make amends." His attorney Paul Shechtman said late Monday that "whatever [William Rapfogel] did, neither his wife nor Speaker Silver knew anything about it."

Operation Integrity is a joint initiative by Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to root out corruption involving taxpayer money -- an indication that the Rapfogel probe will focus, at least in part, on the use of state funds.

The inquiry also involves a look at Rapfogel and Century Coverage Corp., a Valley Stream-based insurance broker, sources said. Calls to the company weren't returned Monday.

Century has contributed nearly $15,000 in the past five years to candidates or political action committees, including $5,000 to the Working Families Party in 2010, $3,500 to the Kings County Democratic Committee in 2009 and $2,500 to Silver in 2011.

City and State ranked Rapfogel No. 73 in its most recent New York City Power 100 list of influential figures.

During Rapfogel's tenure, the Met Council, as it's generally known, secured millions of dollars in state contracts and grants. According to DiNapoli spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman, the Met Council has nearly $17 million worth of state grants for a variety of housing, nutrition, transportation and mental health programs, among others.

Rapfogel's former organization frequently received grants known as "member items," or pork-barrel spending, in the past from state government. For example, a 2006 report showed that six grants, listed under Silver's name in budget documents and totaling around $1 million, went to the council.

At that time, Rapfogel told The Associated Press that the organization received state grants long before Silver was speaker and that his wife "disqualifies herself in terms of any discussion that relates to the organization."

Rapfogel also said then that he'd known Silver for more than 40 years -- since Silver was his youth basketball coach.

In his statement, Rapfogel said: "I deeply regret the mistakes I have made that have led to my departure. . . . I pray that my family and friends and all who care about Met Council can find it in their heart to forgive me for my actions. I will do everything possible to make amends."

Silver said in a statement, "While there is still much that we don't know, we do know that the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty has given tens of thousands of New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds lifesaving help over the past four decades."

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