You have seen the full-page ad in this newspaper for over a year now. Around a year ago, an attorney bought space in the paper, looking for people who, according to the language provided to us by the attorney, felt “lured into investing money into Cardis Enterprises by Aaron D. Fischman, Lawrence Katz, or others.” The language of the ad continued: “Have your follow-up questions been ignored?”
The ad furnished to us by the attorney went on to say: “Cardis and its officers and affiliates have been the subject of at least four separate lawsuits for securities fraud in federal court.”
Unbeknownst to the attorney who placed the ad, the Cardis offices were down the hall from the 5TJT offices in Cedarhurst, and over the years we interacted with key players in that organization. Slowly but surely, a number of people in our building and in our offices listened to the intriguing Cardis presentation about credit-card software that was going to revolutionize the industry around the world.
According to the New York State Attorney General, over the last decade or so, Cardis and its representatives have managed to raise over $70 million for their alleged high-tech product, which apparently never amounted to much or was, at best, improperly marketed. According to the Attorney General’s report, “Cardis was a fraud. It raised money through a steady drumbeat of false representation.”
The purpose of this essay is to bring those involved and interested up to date on what was an alleged investment opportunity that was put together by Orthodox Jews who primarily reside in the Five Towns and who apparently specifically targeted other frum Jews in what the AG has said was a fraud, according to their investigation.
Since this ad began to appear in the 5TJT over a year ago, we have had communications with over 50 people, many of whom live in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, but also some from Rockland County and parts of New Jersey. The story is generally the same. They were assured that this was a great, easy moneymaking investment and that they would make four or five times whatever they invested over a matter of a few months.
Aside from the mistruths, I have found it particularly intriguing that men with solid yeshiva backgrounds, who study Torah and hardly ever miss a minyan, can so cavalierly take large sums of money from people who trust them — specifically because of their trust — and just squander the money with no accountability.
According to the Attorney General’s report, “While the particulars of the fraud varied, these acts and practices were part of a single continuing scheme to deceive investors and enrich Defendant Fischman.”
Interestingly, the AG is not tuned in to the fact that it is almost exclusively frum Jews who are targeted by people like this. I have had the opportunity to speak to dozens of people who called our offices about the ad to see what the status of the case was and whether there was any chance of recovering any of their money.
No one wants to be publicly identified as being so dumb as to be drawn into a situation like this. The only person I can tell you about is myself. I can tell you now that it was a stupid thing to do and I was naïve; more than that, I was trusting, because I davened Minchah with these guys and saw some of them every day. Did I learn my lesson? I hope so; time will tell.
A criminal defense attorney I have been consulting about this essay suggested that I point out that no one should conclude or even think that this type of alleged fraud is pervasive in our community. It is not. The attorney noted, however, that because they are so unusual and even shocking, stories like this stand out and grab an inordinate amount of attention.
On the matter of why these things might happen the way they do, it seems that people in a close religious community like ours trust one another to a great extent because of our faith and belief in Jewish law, which requires honesty and maximum integrity—from the simple things you say and do to how you conduct your business affairs.
In a situation like this, where large sums of money are alleged to have been deceptively generated and then used to exercise personal indulgences, as the Attorney General’s report found, there is an innate reluctance to initiate reporting these types of activities to law enforcement because of our friendships with and close connections to many of the families involved in these unfortunate situations.
Regardless of who the people are who lost this money, the perpetrators know that the last thing we will do is report this situation to the authorities. And in many instances, that is because we know them, you see them in shul and at PTA meetings, we went to yeshiva with their brothers, or your parents are close friends with his or her mother-in-law, and on and on it goes. These types of internal community relationships create a safety net for people who perpetrate this type of massive fraud that ruin people and families.
This, in my estimation, is why we as a community are targeted. Also, the conventional thinking is that the guy standing next to you while davening Ma’ariv every night with a minyan is unlikely to ruthlessly rip you off and tell you it was an investment that just unfortunately did not work out.
The other day the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted over 2,000 points in one day for the very first time in history. People suffered huge losses, but when considering the long history of the market there is a very good chance that all those earnings that were lost in one day will be regained, with earnings moving up as they did, gingerly, over the last year.
The millions of dollars here will not be recovered. The perpetrators of the fraud will most likely be indicted. They will go on trial or plea down whatever they will be charged with so as to minimize jail time, fines, and remuneration they will be ordered to make.
That is the hopeful scenario. In the case of the subjects of the ad that appears here almost every week I have been advised by some rabbis to summon them to a din Torah. I tried to follow that direction, but for a number of reasons, some of which I cannot divulge here at this point, I had to withdraw the complaint from the beis din. One of the reasons was that there are numerous lawsuits ongoing against the defendants, and their defense attorneys would no doubt go into court and tell the judges that the case is now being considered by rabbis so it is best that the court not be involved at this point.
One more fascinating thing on this subject: Over the last year of speaking to people who have lost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars on the faux venture, I have discovered a few things. One common point was that when people were reluctant to invest in a project that was not so-called “guaranteed” to feature a return, they were asked to loan the money at anywhere from 12–15% interest on the loan. When the time for the loan to be repaid arrived and no money was forthcoming they were offered an additional 2 or 3%.
The way it looks now is that across the board the plan was not to pay back the funds, so why does it really matter how much interest on the loan is being offered? Then there have been a few people who were offered commission to “bundle” money from others. Some did that and were paid parts of their commission. Others were given nothing but more fake stock and promises.
Just a few days ago, as this piece was half-written, I received a call from a young man responding to the ad in the paper. As with others who called over the last few months, I asked why it took them so long to respond to an ad in the paper that is so glaring and unusual.
Those involved have claimed to some that they were innocent victims of circumstances and that Cardis was a good investment that went bad. At this point these are only allegations, and if at the end of the process they are right and I am proven wrong, I will be the happiest person in the world to admit it.
In the meantime, the wheels of justice continue to turn.