New arrests, fresh guilty pleas and a growing number of witnesses co-operating with the FBI have bolstered an investigation into a multimillion dollar fraud at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Many in the Russian-speaking community were stunned when 17 of their members — six Claims Conference employees in a New York processing office and 11 accomplices — were arrested last November on charges relating to a fraud that siphoned an estimated $42.5 million from Holocaust funds. At the time, five of the accused pleaded guilty.
Since then, two more people have been arrested, four suspects have pleaded guilty and an undisclosed number of witnesses have provided information, helping the FBI and prosecutors build an even stronger case against the accused. Meanwhile, continuing investigations by the Claims Conference indicate that the amount stolen from Holocaust funds actually totals about $50 million.
The scheme, which was uncovered in 2009, was led by Russian-speaking Claims Conference employees who rubber-stamped hundreds of fraudulent claims over more than a decade. They were aided by so-called “recruiters” who gathered documents from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of members of the Russian-speaking community and then had them altered, or in some cases forged, so that they would comply with compensation requirements set by the German government.
It is still unclear whether all those whose documents were used realized that they were committing a crime.
Claims Conference employees relied upon accomplices to find people in the Russian-speaking community who had documents, such as birth certificates, that could be altered easily. The two most recent arrests were of Moysey and Dora Kucher, who were detained in January on suspicion of defrauding the Article 2 Fund of tens of thousands of dollars. The fund was set up to compensate Jews who were in hiding or imprisoned in Nazi-occupied territory during World War II. It paid out monthly pensions of about $400 and was eligible to only the poorest survivors.