Skverer Chasid set to face extradition in fraud case

By Leon Symons, December 31, 2008

A member of the US-based Skverer strictly Orthodox community, on the run for 11 years to avoid multi-million dollar fraud charges, will know later this month if he is to be extradited to stand trial.

Avrum David Friesel, 56, was arrested at the end of April in Chardmore Road, Stamford Hill, London, by British police helped by United States marshals. He has been awaiting a decision on his extradition since then.

An initial decision will be given at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on January 20. But Friesel’s barrister, Jonathan Goldberg, QC, said this week: “I am instructed to fight this all the way, to the House of Lords, if necessary.”

Friesel, from New Square village in Rockland County, New York State, was one of seven men named in a federal indictment in 1997. They were accused of stealing millions of dollars from federal education and anti-poverty programmes over at least a 20-year period.

The indictment alleged that the group, a number of whom were senior members of the exclusively Skver village, had syphoned off around $11.6 million (£7.8 million) by claiming teaching aid for as many as 3,000 non-existent students at Rockland Community College through a Judaic studies programme.

They were alleged to have garnered money from both federal and state education grants, a small business administration programme, a rent subsidy scheme and an insurance benefit scheme.

It was alleged by federal prosecutors that the men concealed the conspiracy by using false names and bank accounts and by creating fraudulent tax returns.

Four of the seven, convicted in 1999 by a jury in a district court in Manhattan of conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement and other charges, were jailed and have finished their sentences, which were reduced by President Clinton in 2001.

Friesel and two others — Chaim Berger, one of New Square’s founders, (whose son Benjamin was one of the four men jailed) and Nathan Adler — fled. Berger was arrested in Israel in 1999, extradited to America in 2001 and was given a six-year-sentence. He died of cancer aged 79 in a North Carolina prison in 2004. Nathan Adler, also known as Abraham Godlewsky, is still at large.

Since March 1999 Friesel has been in London, where he married an English-born member of the Stamford Hill community, a widow with eight children. He teaches and lectures on Torah and was bailed in the sum of £2.5 million, a sum raised by strictly Orthodox London leaders.

Mr Goldberg said that none of Friesel’s co-defendants had served more than 30 months’ jail time after their sentences had been commuted by President Clinton.

Extradition is being contested for Friesel, he said, because US prosecutors are making it clear that they would seek a six-year-long sentence, and because the alleged crimes stretched back more than 30 years.

Last updated: 9:36am, December 31 2008