GREAT BARRINGTON -- Recently in New York, one William Rapfogel, the head of one of the most important Jewish organizations in the Empire State, was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the nonprofit business he runs.
He already has apologized for his mistakes. His wife, Judy, is the chief of staff (an incredibly important job) to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. She is said to have had no knowledge of her husband's misdeeds even though there are reports that boxes of cash and other goodies were found all over their apartment. Making matters worse, Shelly Silver has been very helpful to Rapfogel and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty as have many, many New Yorkers who wanted to help those in need in the city.
Rapfogel's salary was in excess of $400,000 a year so it's not like he really needed to be lining his pockets with money from his charity. We are all astounded that this kind of thing happens but here in New York, it seems to happen with some regularity.
In America, the wives of famous crooks are often -- but not always -- kept out of the loop when the law closes in. Sometimes the guy might take a plea bargain in order to keep the wife out of jail. There was a lot of mumbling about the Madoff affair and what the biggest embezzler in history told his wife. I am perfectly happy to believe that Mrs. Madoff or Mrs. Rapfogel didn't know what was happening.
Assuming that is indeed the case, I can't imagine what life must be like for her. Friends and family often are in short supply at times like these. Does a marriage ever recover from an event of this magnitude? One can only wonder whether "Willy" Rapfogel thought about the pain he would cause his family and close associates when he allegedly began to steal. Some will say this is simply a case of greed but I have always believed actions like Rapfogel's are indicative of mental illness because the perpetrator doesn't consider the consequences of his actions.
What about Speaker Shelly Silver? While I have never been a fan of the way in which a lot of the self-serving denizens of the Legislature conduct their business, I have always personally liked the speaker. It can't be easy to be a guy like Shelly who is always fighting tooth and nail with the press.
He has fought accusations that he took room upgrades and has had to deal with other silly press-invented charges. Imagine how he must have felt on the night he was informed that his friend "Willy" has been implicated in a huge scam. It must have been a huge shock. Not only is one of his closest advisers married to the guy, Shelly has been at the dinners that Rapfogel put on and Rapfogel has been the beneficiary of lots of government largess to his organization.
The speaker has sat there and watched as one politician after another has gotten into terrible trouble for helping nonprofits that turned into criminal enterprises. I think Shelly is too smart to do bad stuff but it must have been quite a surprise to learn one of the people he trusted the most allegedly was a crook and that his own closest political staff member was married to the guy.
So, what to do? Do you fire the person who knows more about you than anyone but your wife? Do you make a deal that she goes quietly just to avoid embarrassment? How much does she really know? This has got to be very, very tough. We know the speaker has always shown guts and the ability to fight off his critics but this may turn out to be his toughest test yet.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.