4 charged with stealing funds meant for special needs kids

Tim Fleischer reports on the arrest of 4 men accused of embezzling $12 million meant for educating special needs children in Queens. (WABC)
May 13, 2014 3:19:59 PM PDT
Four men are accused of stealing millions of tax dollars that were intended to help children with special needs.

Prosecutors in Queens say more than $12 million in city and state education funds was diverted, some for private school, summer camp, and personal home renovations.

This massive alleged fraud, investigators reveal, was uncovered when the state comptroller's office alerted a Queens agency that it was conducting a routine audit.

When they showed up they learned the executive director had left and allegedly took the books and records with him.

The four men face a variety of charges, including grand larceny, identity theft and falsifying business records while holding various positions at the Island Child Development Center, one of the largest providers of special education services for preschoolers with disabilities.

"It's alleged they diverted the $12 million to their own personal use and to their families and to other business endeavors," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

52-year old Ira Kurman was the former executive director of the private not for profit company.

56-year old Rabbi Samuel Hiller is the assistant director. 50-year old Roy Hoffmann served as an independent auditor and 41-year old Daniel Laniado, investigators say, was a self-described 'investor', who's accused of cashing more than $1 million in agency checks.

But Rabbi Hiller, who hid his face as he left court after posting $500,000 bail, is accused by prosecutors of diverting $8 million to several religious schools and camps not affiliated with the Island Child Development Center, and were not eligible for the education funds.

"What they are saying is that he is the top person in the organization where there are a substantial amount of missing funds, and it's the type of situation that requires us getting to the bottom of, and we will," said defense attorney Mark Agnifilo.

State investigators also alleged that Roy Hoffmann's home in Woodmere was redesigned with $300,000 that was illegally diverted.

Investigators also say about $15,000 was allegedly diverted to Hoffmann's wife.

Ira Kurman, who was the executive director of Island Child Development, is accused by prosecutors of allegedly making $143,000 in loans to members of the community, and allegedly received goods and services related to a daughter's wedding and his son's bar mitzvah.

"This money was earmarked for pre-schoolers, three to five years old, special ed kids with disabilities," said Brown.

Rabbi Hiller, who broke down in court, again hid his face as he hurried from the courthouse, not answering questions about the serious charges against him.

"Not used to being in a situation like this, and I think he is very uncomfortable being here and just broke down," said Agnifilo.