Hundreds of FBI agents raided businesses and yeshivas in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish villages of Ramapo, New York on Wednesday, searching for proof that government money allocated for technology equipment in schools had been spent as mandated, on servers, wiring and internet installation.
Jewish news outlets have recently raised questions about the use of federal technology funds in Orthdox schools and libraries, since many of these schools prohibit their students from using the internet. One of the businesses targeted on Wednesday, Hashomer Alarm Systems, has reportedly been allocated millions in grants from the Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate program, which reimburses up to 90% of the cost of server and wiring installation in schools where at least three quarters of the students are eligible for free lunch. The company's owner, Peretz Klein, evaded questions about the nature of the investigation posed by a local Journal News reporter on Wednesday, and reportedly drove away in a gold SUV.
A Jewish Week investigation found that in 2011, more than 20% of the state's E-Rate grants went to Jewish schools. The largest recipients among the Jewish schools were ultra-Orthodox, and had recently participated in a massive rally denouncing the internet as evil.
No arrests were made over the course of 22 raids on Wednesday, and while the US Attorney General's office confirmed the operation, it would not elaborate on specifics. "Today, the FBI, working with our office, conducted searches in connection with an ongoing fraud investigation," the AG's office said in a statement. "If and when charges are filed, they will eventually become public."
Ramapo's ultra-Orthodox community made headlines in 2005, when it took majority control of the board of the East Ramapo School District and proceeded to cut taxes at the expense of the public school system.