Kiryas Joel raids: Yeshiva building targeted

By Steve Lieberman and Jonathan Bandler (The Journal News)
May 13, 2016

KIRYAS JOEL - FBI agents and other law enforcement officials conducted a number of raids across this ultra-Orthodox village Thursday, including at a property run by the United Talmudical Academy.

Outside that four-story brick yeshiva, at 16A Getzil Berger Blvd., a Journal News reporter observed at least seven law enforcement officials — most wearing FBI jackets — carrying items out of the building. Authorities left the scene about 1:20 p.m.

An Orange County Sheriff's patrol car could also be seen blocking the entrance to the Kiryas Joel Public Safety building on Forest Road as FBI agents investigated inside.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office and an FBI spokeswoman had no comment.

Orange County sheriff's Capt. Scott Hamill called it an FBI investigation, referring questions to that agency. He said sheriff's deputies provided assistance to the FBI. Sullivan County District Attorney's office investigators were also seen at the public safety center.

The raids come a week after two videos surfaced on the Internet said to show a principal at the United Talmudical Academy in close physical contact with young boys, prompting a state police investigation.

The school on Tuesday issued a statement defending him and denying that any abuse occurred. It said the videos have been mischaracterized by the media and critics of the Hasidic community.

A spokesman for the primarily Satmar Hasidic village, Ari Felberman, has not returned calls, and a receptionist at the village offices said he was not available.

A brief statement from Kiryas Joel issued later in the day indicated that the village "fully cooperated" with the requests made by law enforcement officials while they were "onsite" at the public safety building.

Wolf Gluck, a UTA administrator, has not responded to any inquiries from The Journal News since the videos were posted online last week.

As word spread through the village about the raids, residents said they had no idea about the details.

One shopper at the main strip mall on Forest Road, Billy Fried, said he had not heard about them but would be surprised if they had to do with the videos, which he had heard about but had not seen.

"I know (the principal) for 40 years. He's a very warm, honest, upstanding gentleman," Fried said. "My kids who had him as a teacher say the same thing. I would bet a million dollars on this man."

Search warrants were previously executed by federal and local authorities in mid-March at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in Rockland County and several locations in Kiryas Joel targeting possible misuse of federal "e-rate" technology funding by religious schools. A grand jury continues to meet in that case.

A separate or related probe that led to searches in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that same day was possibly targeting school lunch program spending, according to a report in The Forward.