(JTA) — New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, won’t participate in the investigation into ParCare, the network of health clinics under scrutiny for potential fraud related to the new coronavirus vaccine.
James recused herself from the investigation into the clinics, which are owned by Gary Schlesinger, a Hasidic Jewish leader from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a longtime supporter of hers who has posted a number of photos of himself with her to Facebook over the past several years.
“In order to avoid even an appearance of conflict, the attorney general has personally recused herself from this matter,” James’ office said in a statement, according to The New York Post.
But the investigation will continue into whether ParCare may have obtained doses of the coronavirus vaccine “fraudulently” and distributed them more broadly than state guidelines allowed.
The clinic advertised its vaccines and administered several hundreds doses to members of the public at a time when only frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents and workers were eligible.
Schlesinger posted a photo to Twitter showing him receiving the vaccine Dec. 22, even though he was not in the groups then eligible for the vaccine. He later deleted the tweet. Two leading Modern Orthodox rabbis also received doses of the vaccine at a ParCare clinic. One of them, Rabbi Hershel Schachter, said they would not have taken the vaccine if they had known it was not appropriate.
The attorney general’s office said the relationship between James and Schlesinger would not compromise the investigation, saying, “our office will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead,” according to the Post.
But one Orthodox resident of New York told the Post the investigation was now suspect. “No one’s taking it seriously as a threat,” that person said. “It’s known she’s very good friends with the Hasidic community. She’s unlikely to do anything to jeopardize that relationship.”
Meanwhile, New York’s vaccine rollout is proceeding sluggishly, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blaming Gov. Andrew Cuomo for not widening the categories of people eligible to be vaccinated. After state officials began investigating ParCare last week, Cuomo issued an executive order imposing fines of up to $1 million for vaccine-related fraud.