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Far Rockaway rabbi pleads not guilty in misused special ed funds case: DA

By Sarina Trangle

A Far Rockaway rabbi and three colleagues allegedly pocketed $12.4 million allocated for preschool special education services at a Cornaga Avenue nonprofit and funneled it to personal purchases, from kosher catering for Orthodox camps to a $30,000 plumbing job, the Queens DA said.

Rabbi Samuel Hiller, 56, of Far Rockaway; Ira Kurman, 52, of Long Island; Roy Hoffman, 50, of Long Island; and Daniel Laniado, 41, of Brooklyn, all pleaded not guilty when arraigned before Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter Tuesday on a 42-count indictment stemming from misused funds at the Island Child Development Center, the DA said.

“It is disheartening to see a betrayal of the magnitude alleged in this indictment,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement. “Frauds of this nature will inevitably be exposed and rooted out.”

The defendants were held on six-figure cash bail or bonds.

The indictment variously charged them with grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing, identity theft and falsifying business records, the DA said.

They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Charles Clayman, an attorney for Laniado, said his client denies the charges.

“We look forward to challenging them in court and we believe that he will succeed at that end,” he said.

Hoffmann’s lawyer said he was presumed innocent.

The others’ attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.

Authorities said they began investigating Island Child Development Center, a nonprofit at 18-54 Cornaga Ave., that mainly offers preschool to Orthodox Jewish communities in Far Rockaway and Brooklyn, when the state comptroller’s office attempted to perform a routine audit of special education itinerant teachers funding.

The money is distributed to organizations that send educators to disabled children’s homes and other venues.

At a July 2012 audit meeting, the comptroller’s team said it learned the center’s executive director, Kurman, had left with the nonprofit’s books and records.

The DA and comptroller later discovered about $12.472 million of $27 million in city and state money sent to the center was diverted for personal use between 2005 and 2012, Brown said.

About $3 million went to B’nos Bais Yaakov Academy in Far Rockaway, where Hiller, the center’s assistant director, works as a principal, the DA said.

Prosecutors alleged he spent about $8 million on hot lunches, kosher food service, carpeting, cars and staff salaries at religious schools and camps, including Camp Ohra Day in Far Rockaway. The rabbi also allegedly spent $30,000 on a plumbing job at his home, prosecutors said.

Kurman is accused of using government funds to make loans to the community, prosecutors said.

Hoffman, who was hired to fulfill a state mandate of employing an independent auditor, allegedly stole $300,000 from the center to redesign his residence and gave $15,000 to his wife, the indictment said.

And Daniel Laniado, an investor in the center, is charged with cashing nearly $1 million in Island Development Center checks in the names of people or businesses without their consent, the DA said.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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