Well it’s once again Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, which means it’s time once more for our Weekly Rogues’ Gallery—our weekly excursion into the high-stakes, low-rolling world of kosher crime and “Jewish values.” Join us now as we present for your entertainment our weekly parade of bank swindlers, land thieves, MASA murderers, holocaust extortionists, crowing Crown Heights consiglieri, procrustean rabbinical toddler molesters, and other miscellaneous, Ramboesque road apples from the ranks of the ‘Chosen.’
Ever hear of Eliahu Ben Haim, Mordchai Fish, Levi Deutsch, Binyomin Spira, or Moshe Altman? All of them are among the 46 people (a large percentage of whom were Jewish) that got caught up in an FBI undercover money-laundering investigation in 2009. The probe, centered in the New York-New Jersey area, netted rabbis, real estate developers, politicians, and even one organ trafficker, and many of them are now serving time in prison. I have written about this case before, so why do I bring it up now? Well, because the FBI’s chief informant—the man who wore the wiretap that made all the other arrests possible—was sentenced just last week by a federal judge in Newark.
“I was hungry to make money. To gain power. To gain respect,” said Solomon Dwek, who had been facing nine to 11 years in prison but was given a more lenient sentence—six years—by Judge Jose Linares.
Dwek was a real estate investor, a widely-respected member of the Jersey Shore business community, but in 2006 he was arrested on a $50 million bank fraud charge. According to Wikipedia, his real estate empire was based upon a pyramid scheme, and it seems the FBI had a pretty solid, iron-clad case against him. Apparently reading the writing on the mezuzah, so to speak, Dwek decided to start cooperating, turning in all the other criminal fraudsters and con artists he could incriminate—and this is important to keep in mind, because in various news stories on the case (here and here , for instance) Mr. Dwek has been described in decidedly negative terms such as “infamous”, “disgraced,” and so on. According to this report:
Dwek, looking thin and gaunt in contrast to the heavyset figure he presented as a prosecution witness two years ago, also spoke of his family’s banishment from the Orthodox Jewish community resulting from his cooperation.
“I lost everything,” he told the judge. “I have nothing, I own nothing. That’s my punishment and I deserve it.”
He said his children have been kicked out of several schools because of their last name.
Now why would Dwek’s family undergo “banishment” from the Orthodox Jewish community? Why is he so “disgraced” and “infamous” that his children would be kicked out of school? Is it because of the crimes he committed? Or would it be because he set up other members of the Jewish community for arrest?
Linares acknowledged the role Dwek played in the investigation — bringing the FBI into networks of international money launderers that used religious charities to funnel millions in illicit funds, as well as sparking a multitude of political corruption cases that led to the arrests of three mayors, two state legislators and dozens of political operatives.
Yet he called the bank fraud concocted by Dwek “brazen,” involving millions of dollars, with victims well beyond the banks involved; a scheme that was put into play to hide a huge real estate Ponzi scheme.
“It’s mind boggling the amount of crime he has committed,” Linares said, sentencing him to 72 months in jail and forbidding him from any future involvement in the real estate business.
So it does seem his crime was pretty serious. But let’s not forget that the “religious charities” referred to above were by and large, if not entirely, Jewish charities. Let’s also hearken back to the aforementioned Eliahu Ben Haim, Mordchai Fish, Levi Deutsch, et. al.
At the time he was snagged in the undercover sting operation, Ben Haim was the principle rabbi of the Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, New Jersey According to one report, in worship services he “used to lecture on the need for his congregants to be upstanding and moral.” Yet at the same time “he was secretly laundering at least $1.5 million through various charities in an elaborate international underground banking system and keeping a large cut of the ill-gotten gains.”
So it sounds like Ben Haim’s moral character was not terribly higher than Dwek’s. The same report goes on to inform us he used his own congregation’s charities in a scheme in which he would take a ten percent cut of the money he received from Dwek, then wire the rest “to contacts in countries that included Israel, Japan, China, Turkey and Uganda, before it came back to the United States ‘clean,’ authorities have said.”
But somehow, Ben Haim doesn’t seem to have suffered the same ostracization undergone by the real-estate-mogul-turned-federal-informant. In fact, the reverse seems to be the case. Earlier this year, Ben Haim appeared in the courtroom of Federal Judge Joel Pisano and was given a five-year sentence, and as the story informs us the judge received numerous letters from the rabbi’s supporters begging for lenience in the case.
Reading from some of the 180 letters he received on Ben Haim’s behalf, Pisano said many of the authors — who blamed Dwek for Ben Haim’s downfall — “didn’t understand what you did.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Nakly said Dwek, who recorded conversations as a cooperating witness for the FBI, did not entice Ben Haim into money laundering. Rather, the FBI “tapped into” an existing criminal operation, she said. The crime was particularly egregious because Ben Haim was not concerned the money was ostensibly from illegal activities and would be used to fund criminal enterprises, Nakly said.
In other words, rather than blaming the rabbi who committed the crimes and violated the trust of his congregation, the letter-writers are angry with the informant who turned him in. But of course, it makes sense. Dwek was a traitor to the tribe; Ben Haim wasn’t. A Jewish website even refers to Dwek as “the Jewish FBI snitch” and reports that he “called investigators in his case heroes,” which of course would make him even more reprehensible. So when the judge said that the public “didn’t understand what you did,” that was actually incorrect; the public, namely the Jewish community, fully understood what Dwek had done.
We can also look at the case of Fish. Like Ben Haim, Fish, too, was a rabbi—of the Congregation Sheves Achim, in Brooklyn. In addition to operating a charity, Fish also seems to have been affiliated with several gemachs—which essentially are funds set up to provide interest-free loans to Jews. He admitted to investigators knowing that the funds he received from Dwek were proceeds from criminal activity, including bank fraud and criminal activity, and as we are informed:
In order to hide the source of the money, Fish directed Dwek to make the checks payable to several gemachs – including Boyoner Gemilas Chesed, Beth Pinchas, CNE and Levovous – which were purportedly dedicated to providing charitable donations to needy individuals. Once Dwek gave him the checks, Fish passed them to a coconspirator who deposited them into bank accounts held in the names of the purported charities. Fish would then arrange to make cash available through an underground money transfer network. Other individuals, including David S. Golhirsh, Naftoly Weber, Avrohom Y. Polack, Binyamin Spira and Yoely Gertner, would provide Fish and Dwek with the cash.
Fish admitted that he engaged in approximately 15 money laundering transactions with Dwek, helping to convert approximately $900,000 in checks into more than $800,000 in cash, keeping a cut.
In July of this year Fish went before the same Judge Pisano and was given a 46-month sentence:
“I have been living in shame. It is hell for me every day,” Rabbi Mordchai Fish said as he held his head in his hands during a rambling statement to the court. “I don’t blame anyone but myself. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.”
Fish was one of five rabbis arrested in a massive money-laundering and political corruption sting three years ago that stretched from southern New Jersey to the Brooklyn neighborhood where he leads Congregation Sheves Achim.
All of the rabbis and several other Orthodox Jewish community members have pleaded guilty to money-laundering conspiracy or illegal money transmitting. Fish pleaded guilty last year to money-laundering conspiracy, a crime punishable by a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
While the above story makes no mention of letters begging for leniency, neither is there any mention of Fish or any of the other rabbis mentioned being banished or ostracized. Nor is there any mention of such in this story on the sentencing of Deutsch, who went before—yep, you guessed it—Judge Pisano in June of this year:
TRENTON — He was one of the money guys.
One of more than 40 people swept up in the biggest federal undercover sting in New Jersey history, Levi Deutsch, 35, used his connections to help launder $200,000 through religious charities he controlled, say federal prosecutors.
Yesterday, the Brooklyn-born Israeli was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
Deutsch, who pleaded guilty last year, admitted he helped launder the money for failed Monmouth County real estate investor Solomon Dwek, then working as an informant for the government after being charged in an unrelated $50 million bank fraud.
Nor do we hear of such in this story about Spira, or this one on Altman. The public vengeance and retribution seems to have been reserved exclusively for Dwek. So who is a bigger rogue, Dwek or the people he turned in? I personally can see redeeming qualities in Dwek, but perhaps I’ll just leave the question for philosophers to argue. His story does make for an interesting case study in Jewish identity, however.
Murders and Sex With Minors
In our last Weekly Rogues’ Gallery I included a video about a rabbi by the name of Moishe Turner, who in October of last year was arrested and charged with raping and sodomizing a teenage boy. Most of the cases below are also sex-related cases involving minors. And with one exception, all of the subjects are rabbis. Very much worth remarking upon, however, is the rather pronounced difference in how the media reports stories like this when it’s a rabbi involved, as opposed to, say, a Catholic priest. When rabbis get arrested for having sex with children, the media always, or at least often, report it as if it’s an unprecedented, unheard of occurrence. Take the video I mentionedl
“He calls himself a rabbi, but cops say his actions are hardly rabbinical. He’s accused of preying on a teenage boy,” says the news anchorman as he introduces the story.
Then we cut to the reporter in the field covering the story, who seems even more stunned than the anchorman. “Some people just couldn’t believe it could be true!” he says, and then he proceeds to interview an Orthodox Jew in the local community who expresses the belief that Turner could not possibly even be a rabbi—that there must be some mistake.
But of course, rabbis getting arrested for having sex with minors is actually a quite common occurrence, as we see below. Some of these cases are from the past year or so, but as you’ll see, some are quite old, meaning arrests of this sort have been going on for a while. But each time it happens, the media often seem to treat it as if they are shocked, I tell ya, shocked! And so it goes.
Rabbi David Kaye
Parents at Congregation Har Shalom synagogue in Potomac — shaken by the revelation that their former rabbi allegedly used the Internet to arrange a meeting with an underage boy for sex — will get a lesson in online safety this week.Rabbi David Kaye was the rabbi at Har Shalom for 15 years until 2001. ‘‘Dateline NBC” reported Friday that Kaye and several other adults were caught in an Internet sting.
‘‘People were shocked and saddened,” said Har Shalom President Debbie Schapiro.
- Rabbi Fred Neulander
Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, after trying to skip his own sentencing, told his murdered wife’s family he had no hand in her killing and then walked away to begin what will likely be a lifetime behind prison bars.”I cannot express remorse for something I did not do,” Neulander said Thursday morning during a rambling 20-minute speech.
Superior Court Judge Linda G. Baxter sentenced Neulander to life in state prison without the chance of parole for at least 30 years. She said Neulander “is so cold and calculating that it sends shivers down the spine of any civilized person.”
Rabbi Stanley Levitt
Despite tearful pleas from victims, a judge sentenced a one-time religious instructor for a prominent Brookline school to 10 years probation Thursday for sexually abusing three of his students in Boston during the 1975-1976 school year.
The sentence for Rabbi Stanley Z. Levitt, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, stunned and angered the victims, who gathered in the Suffolk Superior courtroom to face their abuser and witness the sentencing. Levitt was also ordered to stay away from children, register as a sex offender, and wear a GPS monitor.
“He should have served jail time,” said Michael Brecher, who along with the two other former students at the Maimonides School, an Orthodox Jewish school, said that Levitt touched him sexually when he was a sixth-grader.
Rabbi Victor Koltun
GOSHEN – The Brooklyn rabbi charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of two men in Newburgh has been found unable to assist in his own defense.
Two of three psychologists who examined Victor Koltun, 42, found that he is incapacitated. The deciding opinion, received Wednesday in Orange County Court, determined that while Koltun has a factual understanding of the legal proceedings, uncontrolled manic symptoms have left him without the rational capacity to aid in his own defense.
Prosecutors say Koltun was the mastermind in a murder-for-hire plot that ended with the Nov. 4, 2010 shooting deaths of former Lloyd cop Francis Piscopo, 49, and his 28-year-old nephew, Gerald Piscopo. Two other men pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and are serving prison sentences.
Rabbi Israel Weingarten
Rabbi Israel Weingarten cross-examined his daugther in court Tuesday.
The ex-wife of a rabbi accused of molesting his daughter testified Thursday that she found them together in bed, and the teen revealed that she had been sexually abused.
Before she began answering the prosecutor’s questions, Faige Weingarten waived her spousal privilege and told the judge she wanted to testify against her ex-husband, Israel Weingarten, who prosecutors say began abusing the girl in 1990 when she was 9.
Rabbi Alan Horowitz
Rabbi Horowitz, also a child psychiatrist, is described here as a convicted sex offender.
Well, that wraps up our Rogues’ Gallery this week. Until next time.