From the daily archives: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The youngsters were able to get an up close look at the Cattle Call Rodeo on Tuesday morning at the Cattle Call Arena.

Its was a morning filled with fun and excitement for preschoolers and special needs children as they got to see the clowns, horses, cattle, cowboys and cowgirls as the Cattle Call Rodeo gave them a preview of what is coming for this weekend for Brawley’s Cattle Parade and Rodeo.

 

For nearly six decades, a not-for-profit corporation known as The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany—or the Claims Conference—has been overseeing German government funds that assist Holocaust survivors.

So you can imagine our surprise and concern when we uncovered evidence that it had been the victim of fraud.

This afternoon at a New York City press conference, we announced that six corrupt Claims Conference employees in its Manhattan office—along with 11 other conspirators—have been charged in a decade-long scheme to defraud the organization and legitimate Holocaust victims out of more than $42 million.

The Claims Conference supervises several funds and processes thousands of applications a year. The two funds allegedly targeted for fraud were:

  • The Article 2 Fund, which makes monthly payments of $411 to survivors of Nazi persecution who make less than $16,000 a year and who either lived in hiding or a Jewish ghetto for 18 months or were incarcerated for at least six months in a concentration or forced labor camp; and
  • The Hardship Fund, which makes a one-time payment of approximately $3,600 to survivors forced to evacuate their hometowns and become refugees.

Applications by persons living in the U.S. are made to the Claims Conference’s office in Manhattan, usually by mail. The applicants provide identification documents, along with information about their family and experiences escaping Nazi persecution. Caseworkers with the Claims Conference verify an applicant’s history, often by checking external databases and archives, and sometimes through a personal interview. If approved for payment, a check is mailed to the applicant or electronically deposited into a bank account.

CJIS staff
Processing fingerprints during this morning’s arrests.

Claims Conference officials became suspicious of possible fraudulent activity within their organization in December 2009 and immediately contacted law enforcement. Our New York office began an investigation, with the full cooperation of the Claims Conference.

According to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, here’s how the scheme generally worked:

  • Driven by crooked Claims Conference employees, former employees and other conspirators would recruit people—some unwitting—who weren’t eligible for the program (mostly individuals of the Jewish faith in the Russian immigrant community) to take part in the fraud.
  • To make it appear that applicants were eligible, identification documents were often altered (for example, a birth date was changed to make it appear that applicants were born during or before World War II) and fake Nazi persecution stories were often made up.
  • Fraudulent applications were reviewed and approved by corrupt Claims Conference employees.
  • Once the applicants received their money, they kept a portion but were instructed to pay certain “fees” using the rest—which of course ended up in the pockets of the conspirators. These “fees” were usually paid in the form of cash or money order.

Among those charged in the scheme are the former director of the Article 2 and Hardship Funds, other past and present Claims Conference employees, two law firm employees, a notary/document forger, and several other middlemen.

New York Assistant Director in Charge Janice Fedarcyk said that the victims of this scheme were “those who had already suffered at the hands of Nazi persecution only to have their experiences exploited again—this brazen miscarriage of the compensation program is, in its own way, a kind of crime against humanity.”

 

By Mario Conde

The City of Calexico had a special meeting Tuesday to see the current financial situation of the City for this year.

The current fiscal year budget faces a shortfall of $1.5 million that was reported in August due to over expenditures in some departments. The City faced a $5.5 million dollar shortfall last summer. The Council approved as series of cuts in spending and went for layoffs of short-term, limited-term, and probationary employees in order to have the shortfall by the June 30 erased. Hashem said at Tuesday’s meeting that the majority of the money used in the general fund is to pay salaries and benefits.

Hashem was questioned by the Council about various items on the recent three months of this fiscal year. City Manager Victor Carrillo said that departments have been told to cut 8% of their revenue for this fiscal year in order to end with a positive balance in June. Councilman Luis Castro questioned Carrillo as to why the City Attorney spent a lot more money from her budget than what it was approved. The City Manager said that because of litigations made this year regarding the Mega Park and the Casino property.

Councilman Castro said that there needs to be stronger leadership from department heads and told City Manager that he needs to pressure the department head to work better. Castro continued by saying that Calexico is the only City in the Imperial Valley that is closing City Hall every Friday and is the only City in the valley with furlough and that have layoff people. He said that the City Manager administration needs to improve itself. Councilman Bill Hodge said that with this financial crisis there is a possibility of having some cuts in labor but urged not to go for the employees but said that it might be time to start at the top and have a 25% salary cut for department heads instead of going for those that work in the front lines, Hodge said.

Mayor John Moreno said that they should not point the finger at anyone in particular but said they need to work together in finding solutions for this crisis. Council members Romero and Hurtado agreed that the City needs to work together to find solutions and not fall in the same bad habits of the past.

The council will look at options to solve the financial crisis in the next coming meetings that will include the re-organization of the City of Calexico departments that was proposed by the council in the last City workshop.

 

By Mario Conde

Soccer fever returns to Calexico next week as the legendary World Cup Soccer players from Mexico will host a clinic here in Calexico.

The long awaited Calexico Soccer Clinic will finally arrive Monday and Tuesday of next week as world cup players such as Ramon Ramirez, Javier Zuniga, Juan Hernandez, “El Emperador” Claudio Suarez, among others will come to Calexico to teach kids the fundamentals of soccer. The event is presented by the CPAL (Calexico Parents Athletic League) in an effort to encourage kids to practice sports and stay out of trouble.

The event that will take place on Monday will be the beginning of weeklong activities from CD International that will have visors coming and see kids play and look for young Imperial Valley talent and invite them join Mexican soccer teams such as Atlas, Chivas, Necaxa, among others.

CPAL Athletic Director Carmen Estrada recalled the accomplishments of former Calexico PAL Athlete Issac Acuna who made his debut with Club America in the first division soccer division. Acuna will now play in Queretaro in the main roster and will play regularly in the 2011 season that will start in January. Estrada said that once Issac proves himself as a player, he could go back to Club America now as an established soccer player.

“We need more people from Calexico and the Imperial Valley to achieve what Issac has accomplished.” Estrada said.

The event will start on Monday, November 15th at 5:00 p.m. at the Daniel Gutierrez Field. For more information call Carmen Estrada at (760) 886-6086.

 
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