Funds set up by the German government to compensate Holocaust victims were the target of a scheme that siphoned off some $42 million in phony claims. U.S. Justice Department officials have charged 17 Brooklyn residents in the operation.
Federal prosecutors says thousands of people were drawn into the plot. Members of the alleged conspiracy submitted fraudulent applications for compensation on behalf of people who were not eligible and then kept some of the money for themselves.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the charges Wednesday. He said the types of false information contained in applications to the compensation fund allegedly included "fake dates of birth to make people who were not even alive during World War II appear older, fake places of birth, fake passport photographs, fake identification documents and also fabricated stories of persecution."
Greg Schneider helps administer the fund known as The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He said the organization first noticed irregularities in December of last year. "We identified it, we documented it, we brought it to the FBI," said Schneider.
"We've investigated, and we will go to the end to find each and every application that is fraudulent. So even though it is less than one percent of the funds that are distributed, no amount will be tolerated," Schneider said.
Those charged include the executive director of the compensation fund's New York office and five other employees. The New York office handles more than 40 percent of the claims filed worldwide.
"I want to be clear," said Schneider, "We will not in any way ever let this deter us from our mission of securing compensation for Holocaust survivors. The people who suffered in camps and in ghettos deserve better."