Moshe S. Newhouse, who admitted to obtaining Medicaid benefits he was ineligible for, should resign from the Lakewood school board. Immediately.
It’s a disgrace that someone who defrauded taxpayers continues to sit on a board that oversees a $165 million, taxpayer-funded budget.
Staff Writer Stacey Barchenger reported Thursday that Newhouse and his lawyer cut a deal as part of an amnesty fraud program that allowed Newhouse to pay back only about half of the $48,000 government assistance benefits he admitted he had “improperly obtained.”
Not only should he have been required to pay it all back — with interest — but the settlement agreement should have required that Newhouse step down from his public position. How do you allow a public servant who has admitted to fraud remain in that public position?
To make matters worse, Barchenger reported that 11 days before Newhouse, a real estate agent, applied for amnesty, he signed a contract to buy a $500,000 Lakewood home and finalized a $405,000 mortgage agreement in May.
What kind of message does it send when those who have admitted to illegally obtaining Medicaid benefits are not required to pay back the full amount? Particularly when, back in September 2017, state Comptroller Philip J. Degnan released a statement that said all participants in the amnesty program would be required to make full restitution. The program allowed anyone in Ocean County who admitted to being Medicaid cheats to avoid possible criminal prosecution if they agreed to certain terms in civil settlements. More than 150 people were allowed to settle — all for about half of the amount they received illegally.
What does Degnan have to say about his original statement today? Absolutely nothing. Instead, he threatened legal action against the Press if we published the story. We broke no laws in obtaining the documents that were the basis for the story or in running it. Degnan knows that. It was simply an attempt to intimidate, which didn’t work. And it’s shameful that someone whose job it is to root out waste and fraud in state government would seek to silence the press. Why did he do it? To avoid embarrassment about having signed off on amnesty settlements he knew would anger taxpayers if they became public. If Degnan isn’t embarrassed now, he should be.
One of the other unfortunate consequences of the deal Degnan struck with Newhouse and the others is that it has helped feed the belief in the non-Orthodox community that the Orthodox are corrupt and that they get special treatment from the state.
We have written a number of stories about Lakewood officials who have been charged with corruption and have abused their positions for personal gain. But it’s unfair to stereotype the broader Orthodox community on the basis of the greed of a few Lakewood officials. Corrupt leaders can be found among all religious, ethnic and political groups.
Lakewood’s Orthodox community faces a greater challenge, though, in trying to alter the negative perception. Anti-Semitism exists. And it is further fueled by zoning and planning policies in Lakewood that have led to overcrowding, clogged streets and financial stresses on the school system.
To help counter the bias and stereotyping, the Orthodox leaders making an effort to improve the negative perception of the Orthodox community must speak out publicly and forcefully against corrupt officials, and work to root out those who seek to take advantage of their public positions.
State Sen. Bob Singer, members of the Orthodox-majority Township Committee and Board of Education, and members of the Vaad, which represents the interests of the Orthodox in Lakewood, should publicly condemn Newhouse and other officials who have abused their positions. Staying silent will only reinforce the belief that corruption somehow permeates and defines the entire Lakewood Orthodox community. They can’t allow that to happen.