Sunday, May 28, 2017

Wise Guys - Not Wise Jews

Shalom Lamm at his development, Chestnut Ridge in Bloomingburg, (NYT)
In his latest article in Hamodia (republished on Cross Currents)  Rabbi Avi Shafran asks the following question: ‘Does widespread voting fraud exist?’ Although the subject of his article is unrelated to the following discussion, I found it to be somewhat ironic in light of the admission of guilt by an Orthodox Jew of committing voter fraud. 

The only thing that has somewhat of a bright spot to this sordid affair is that at least one of the people guilty of this crime, has taken ownership of it and has apologized. I am not going to discuss what his motives were for making saying he was sorry. A resident of the community where this crime took place is skeptical about his sincerity saying, ‘The fact that he apologized is insane…. Mr. Nakdimen is only sorry that he got caught.’ 

I can’t know what is in a person’s heart. But admitting guilt goes a long way towards preventing at least one person, Mr. Nakdimen, from ever doing it again. And hopefully it will act as a deterrent for others. Although other high profile cases of fraud by Orthodox Jews have failed to deter these gentleman, one can hope that others will take notice this time and think twice about breaking the law – even if in those circumstances where they don’t have the personal ethics to do so.

Kenneth Nakdimen was a partner, with Shalom Lamm in an ambitious development project in and around Bloomingburg, a village in New York. The idea was to build homes for the burgeoning population of places like Williamsburg and Monroe. The development was to be called ‘Chestnut Ridge’.

Predictably there was opposition from the local residents. The developers tried to prevent any organized opposition. Which could influence local officials to pass legislation that would prevent these developers from pursuing their plan. As elections were coming up they hatched a plan to insure that their project would go forward unhindered. From  the Times Harold-Record
In December, Lamm and Nakdimen, along with Volvy Smilowitz of Monroe, were charged with conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process, also known as voter fraud…
Federal prosecutors say they filed falsified voter registrations, paid for voter registrations and offered bribes for registrations and votes, all to swing the 2014 village election in an effort to seat a mayor and trustees who would be favorably disposed toward their project. On Thursday, Nakdimen admitted that was all true. 
Lamm and Smilowitz have pled not guilty.

Once again we have the specter of Orthodox Jews putting greed in front of ethics. Which keeps the false image of ‘the greedy Jew that will do anything for money’ alive and well. These developers stood to make millions from the sales of these homes to Chasidic seeking refuge from the crowded circumstances of places like Williamsburg – moving into the tree-lined open spaced suburbs like this new project.

I wish I could believe that these developers were acting with altruistic motives – on behalf of these Chasidim. Although it would still be illegal and unethical, one might understand fighting for the right of people to live wherever they choose by not allowing prejudices to win the day. But I tend to doubt that this was their prime motivation. Someone very wise once said, ‘Follow the money’.  The motive here was no doubt profit versus loss. They stood to make hundreds of millions upon completion of the project and stood to lose the millions they have already poured into it if prevented.

Now I have nothing against making lots of money, much less trying to avoid financial ruin. But not at the expense of flouting the law and committing fraud. There is not a doubt in my mind that they knew that what they were doing  was wrong and an egregious violation of the law. But they did it anyway foolishly thinking they would never get caught. Probably rationalizing all the way that they were doing it for their fellow Jews.

I’m not buying it. Nor do I buy their claim of innocence. I believe Mr. Nakdimen. They conspired together to do it. If I were Mr. Lamm or Mr. Smilowitz, I would change my plea to guilty. It won’t help our image much. But it might reduce the sentence they will get and the suffering their families will experience. Something they ought to consider. Because if they don’t - they will no doubt get the proverbial ‘book’ thrown at them. As have others that decided to roll the dice and plead not guilty - when they were found guilty.