3 plead guilty in scheme to defraud Holocaust reparations fund
Three defendants pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to conspiring to defraud a Holocaust reparations organization out of $57.3 million, according to court documents.
Genrikh Kolontyrskiy, Moysey Kucher and Dora Kucher, all of Brooklyn, helped produce and process some of the thousands of fraudulent applications for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany that are under investigation.
The organization, also known as the Claims Conference, distributes more than $400 million a year from funds provided by the German government to victims of the Holocaust.
"Our efforts to hold to account all of the individuals who participated in defrauding an organization that exists solely for the purpose of aiding victims of Nazi atrocities continues," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.
The defendants aided in defrauding two funds managed by the Claims Conference, the Article 2 Fund and the Hardship Fund, of $45 million and $12.3 million, respectively, according to court documents.
The Article 2 Fund makes monthly payments of around $400 to survivors of Nazi persecution who make less than $16,000 per year "and either lived in hiding or under a false identity for at least 18 months," according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office.
The Hardship Fund pays a one-time payment of $3,500 to "victims of Nazi persecution who evacuated the cities in which they lived and were forced to become refugees."
Kolontyrskiy, 80, knowingly processed fraudulent applications for payment while employed with the Article 2 Fund, according to court documents.
Moysey Kucher, 66, and Dora Kucher, 58, recruited individuals to provide identification documents that were used to prepare fraudulent applications for both funds, in exchange for money paid out to the false applicants, according to court documents.
Jesse Siegel, Kolontyrskiy's attorney, said his client was by no means a major instigator, but he takes responsibility for his actions.
"He admitted his guilt before the court, and now we hope the judge will put my client's role into context."
Moysey Kucher is extremely remorseful and feels terrible about what happened, according to his attorney, Richard Asche.
Dora Kucher's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, says Kucher has accepted responsibility for her conduct, which she deeply regrets
"We are hopeful that at sentencing, the court will find reason to sentence her with great leniency and compassion."
The three defendants were arrested in 2011 and are among 31 people who have been charged with participating in the scheme. To date, 10 former Claims Conference employees have been charged.
"We are grateful to the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office ... for their diligent work that resulted in the three guilty pleas," Claims Conference public relations manager Amy Wexler said in a statement.
Kolontyrskiy faces a maximum of 40 years in prison, while Moysey Kucher and Dora Kucher each face a maximum of 20 years in prison. All three defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in August.