JEC controller indicted in unrelated pyramid scheme

The embattled S.F.-based Jewish Educational Center has chosen to retain the charity's in-house accountant, who was indicted two weeks ago on federal charges of swindling investors of more than $20 million in a pyramid scheme.

The charges have no connection to Mamie Tang's job as controller of the JEC, a position she has held since the spring. Meanwhile, the center faces unrelated state charges of financial wrongdoing.

After Tang's indictment, she immediately came to the charity and offered to resign, JEC board chair Carol Ruth Silver said Wednesday..

"I told her I thought she ought not to resign, that she was very needed by the children and the seniors and the other people who benefit from the JEC," Silver said.

"And there is no activity at the JEC that has any resemblance to the kind of thing she is accused of having done."

Silver added that Tang "has been absolutely wonderful. She has worked harder than any accountant has worked," including laboring nights and weekends.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Crowe expressed surprise, however, that the charity is keeping Tang on its payroll.

"There are lots of accountants out there who are capable," he said.

On July 16, a federal grand jury indicted Tang and co-defendant John Hickey on 15 counts of securities fraud, 15 counts of mail fraud and two counts of wire fraud. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco, the charges stem from a series of limited partnerships to develop property in Napa and Sonoma counties.

Tang and Hickey, both of San Francisco, allegedly raised more than $20 million from 500 investors and were in the process of raising another $50 million when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission shut them down in 1994, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Tang and Hickey have pleaded not guilty to the charges and are free on bond, according to Hickey's attorney, David Cohen. Hickey has no connection to the JEC.

Neither Tang nor her attorney, William Weiner, could be reached for comment.

Tang and Hickey began soliciting money in 1991, promising high interest rates to investors. They allegedly paid interest to their original investors with money from the next groups of investors, Crowe said. He described their plan as a classic "Ponzi scheme," popularly known as a pyramid scheme.

"The way they were doing it — it was never ever going to pay off," Crowe said.

Stuart M. Kaplan, the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee for JEC whose responsibilities include hiring and firing, was aware of Tang's indictment. Kaplan would only say that "right now she is needed to complete some important projects. For now, she is doing some critical work."

Though Tang's indictment doesn't pertain to her JEC job, the beleaguered charity has little need now for more bad publicity.

In mid-June, the California attorney general and the San Francisco district attorney charged the charity's founders, Rabbi Bentzion and Mattie Pil, with diverting funds for personal use, fraud, tax evasion, false advertising and unfair business practices.

They have denied any wrongdoing.

A state judge froze the operation's fund-raising, including its radio ads soliciting used cars for auction. Those auctions, the JEC's prime source of revenue, have brought in millions of dollars to the charity in the past several years.

JEC creditors filed a petition for involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July.

The Internal Revenue Service is also investigating JEC for wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and currency transactions designed to evade federal reporting laws.

The Pils have since resigned as JEC's top officials.