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West Bloomfield Township, MI - FBI Raids Michigan Jewish Institute Over Allegations Of Defrauding The Federal Government

Published on: July 8, 2015 01:03 PM
Last updated on: July 8, 2015 04:52 PM
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FILE - MJI students enter the institutionsFILE - MJI students enter the institutions

West Bloomfield Township, MI - After years of seemingly suspicious activities, the FBI raided the Michigan Jewish Institute (MJI) yesterday, with approximately 15 federal agents targeting MJI’s administrative offices in Southfield.

Ha’aretz writes (http://bit.ly/1MeHRVO) that employees there were directed into a conference room, where agents took their contact information and sent them home. While the exact reason for the raid is unclear, there is some evidence pointing to $25 million in Federal Pell Grants claimed by the Institute over a five-year period.

Pell Grants are intended for America’s poorest students, but these grants were issued to students who either never attended or graduated the Institute or lived in Israel when these monies were disbursed in their names.  Of the students who took any academic courses at all, most enrolled in Judaic studies classes at yeshivas and seminaries in Israel.

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Yet, somehow, MJI has expanded its student body from 300 students in 2004 to over 2,000 students today, even though there are almost no students present on the campus. Still, these overseas students are eligible for Pell Grants because they are U.S. citizens, and can qualify for up to $5,730 per student for financial assistance. Moreover, MJI’s assets have increased despite its poor academic record from $1.2 million in 2008 to $4.6 million in 2013.

The Institute charges students $2,500 for a so-called study-abroad program, as well as a tuition fee payable to the host school overseas.

According to a study conducted by the Forward in 2012, only 10% of students in 2012 completed their freshman years and went on to a sophomore year. Following the Forward’s investigation, 40% of students went on to complete a second year, and a total of 20 bachelor’s degrees were awarded.

Of the classes that are conducted on site, those are held in what’s known as “The Shul,” a sprawling $6 million synagogue located in the heart of the 45-acre Campus of Living Judaism, an affiliate of Chabad- Lubavitch.

In 2013, MJI was granted permission by the West Bloomfield Township to expand “The Shul” even further by adding a third building on the Campus of Living Judaism. That building was intended to house 42 administrative staff and six classrooms.

But just as that work was about to begin, MJI started having issues with its accreditation. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools denied MJI’s renewal request three times before finally approving it in April 2014.

Both ACICS and MJI declined to disclose the issues surrounding the re-accreditation. Neither Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, MJI’s president, nor Dov Stein, MJI’s director of academic administration, would comment on the FBI raid or pending allegations.


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Read Comments (12)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Jul 08, 2015 at 02:07 PM Will_The_Truth_Stand_Up Says:

Sounds like they needed the additional 42 administrative staff to run this gesheft that they had going on!

2

 Jul 08, 2015 at 02:22 PM The Professor Says:

We're now in the Three Weeks. Let's hope and pray that the allegations are baseless. It would be a terrible chilul HaShem if this turned out to be anything more than a wild goose chase.

3

 Jul 08, 2015 at 02:34 PM mendoza Says:

nobody has learned from the past cases . nobody ... every one thinks
" na it cant happen to me " i am ah klugar eich vais besser "
now there gong to make a big mass pidyon shevooiem campaign
as if we are all rolling in $ ....... like for sure ill send 1000. 00 and the next shnorer will send his last bit of savings . because some mosed wants to live like a fat cat ......

5

 Jul 08, 2015 at 01:13 PM Reb Yid Says:

If they were accredited by a legitimate body, it's going to be hard for the govt to claim they were a phony school. I just don't understand 42 admin staff and only 6 classrooms, but lots of schools (esp public schools which cost taxpayers more than this did) are similarly top heavy.

6

 Jul 08, 2015 at 01:18 PM lavrenty Says:

good, shut them down and while theyre at it all the mosques down the road in Dearborn.

7

 Jul 08, 2015 at 04:11 PM hashomer Says:

Here we go again... Lots of Avos but no Pirke... feh

8

 Jul 08, 2015 at 05:47 PM ConsiderThis Says:

#4 - It is not true that Chabad is getting hammered. For starters, what connection is there between this case and the others that you mention? Here, the allegation is that something may have been done by human choice. India? What connection? And, while Chabad was the target, the victims were from many kriezen, that were present at Chabad...
Nepal? Was Chabad the target of the earthquake? An Act of G-d? Or, were they the "boots on the ground" helping the many victims r"l?
Perhaps consider that Chabad, while not the victims ("hammered") are in places where things happen. More accurately, they make good things happen in all kinds of places. Places where perhaps others don't go much. Just a thought.

9

 Jul 09, 2015 at 12:16 AM LebidikYankel Says:

Reply to #1  
Will_The_Truth_Stand_Up Says:

Sounds like they needed the additional 42 administrative staff to run this gesheft that they had going on!

I have taken their course - the course is largely online, but the material is extensive, the tests rigorous, and there is interaction between teachers and students and between the students themselves (- all mandatory. I.e. its not just taking tests, a correspondence course.) The tests, by the way, are the same tests the Rabbanut administers to receive smicha.

They are for real. There is a center with many staffers in Jerusalem too.

I don't see any scam going on, I really do not.

10

 Jul 09, 2015 at 12:45 AM Anonymous Says:

I did some work for them years ago to help them try to raise government funds. As far as I recall, Rabbi Stein & his colleague (whose name I forget) wanted to make sure everything was done correctly. Because they didn't exactly fit the criteria, we couldn't help and being honest people, unlike some prospective clients, they weren't prepared to finegel to "make it happen" (which my company doesn't do, we value our reputation in the NFP world.) I am 100% convinced they did everything with good intent, but as with everything governmental, they might have unwittingly missed some rule in very fine print. I hope this all works out for them & the institution.

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 Jul 09, 2015 at 10:52 AM ChaimTovim Says:

I was a student at MJI for 3 years and hope to graduate next year with a Bachelors of Applied Science degree in Business Information Systems. I can tell you that the school is real: I have participated in 2 semesters of online studies each year. Each 15 week semester had weekly lectures to listen to, discussion forums to participate in, and tests to take. I had midterms and finals. I have studied topics in business and general education, and they did allow me to use some of my Judaic studies courses towards my electives. I have been very impressed.

I do receive federal financial aid for my studies, and I don't see why I shouldn't.

12

 Jul 09, 2015 at 10:12 AM MJI Graduate 2015 Says:

1. I just graduated MJI - June 2015 - after taking their online courses for several years. This coming fall, I am attending a fine graduate school -- they recognized MJI's accreditation and my overall application was so impressive, they awarded me an assistantship and full scholarship. In my time at MJI, there was no financial philandering. Tuition was reasonable, registration fees low, courses required attendance and work.

2. The Forward article assumes that it is unethical - or even illegal - to use federal funding for Americans to study abroad when the majority of those students do not continue their academic education. In our lifestyle, four years of consecutive college is not the norm. Marriage is the dominant priority, and after that it can take some years to settle down and figure out a career plan. But once a person does reach this juncture, having a year of college under one's belt is enormously helpful. Thus, it is important to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves: Is it helpful for the financial stability of the Orthodox community to have that year in seminary / yeshiva accredited? And the answer is an easy yes.

Cont...

13

 Jul 09, 2015 at 10:25 AM MJI Graduate 2015 Says:

...cont:

3. Final point. Lastly, think about the enormous potential MJI can fulfill. Currently, its online program - which I attended - is relatively small. If it were to expand, which is what I hope is their plan, it can change the face of Orthodox higher education. Currently, there are a sprinkling of colleges that revolve around the Jewish calendar, accept seminary/yeshivah credits and offer Torah classes as elective courses or as a Judaic Studies major. These institutions are geographically limited, primarily in New York, one place in Chicago, probably there's something in Los Angeles too. I don't live in any of these places, and without MJI it would have been arduous to start from scratch at a local college, juggling family and Jewish life. A full-fledged online Jewish college is a venture that is critical in today's society - anyone, anywhere, can have access to higher education! And to do this professionally, of course a building with multiple administrative offices and sizable personnel is necessary...

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