Monday, December 24, 2007
Eight men and five Brookyln-based Spinka charitable organizations have been charged with tax fraud and money laundering. Six have been arrested, and two are still at large.
The men charged are Naftali Tzi Weisz, 59, a Grand Rabbi from Brooklyn; Gabbai Moseh E. Zigelman, 60, also from Brooklyn and Weisz’ assistant; Yaacov Zeivald, 43, of Valley Village; Yosef Nachum Naiman, 55, of Los Angeles; Alan Jay Friedman, 43, of Los Angeles; Joseph Roth, 66, an international accounts manager at a bank in Israel from Tel Aviv; diamond merchant Moshe Arie Lazar, 60; and Jacob Ivan Kantor, 71, an attorney from Tel Aviv. The first six were arrested last Wednesday, and four of them have been released on bail. The FBI believes Lazar to be in Israel. Kantor is also believed to be in Israel according to other reports.
The charitable organizations named as defendants in the charges are Yeshiva Imrei Yosef, Yeshivath Spinka, Central Rabbinical Seminary, Machne Sva Rotzohn, and Mesivta Imrei Yosef Spinka. The FBI alleges that these charities issued fraudulent receipts for bogus charitable contributions and were the beneficiaries of fees charged for transfers of funds as part of a money laundering conspiracy.
By a 37-count grand jury indictment that was unsealed on Wednesday morning, Weisz and Zigelman are charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and other crimes, 19 counts of mail fraud, one money laundering conspiracy count, 11 counts of international money laundering, and one count of operating an illegal money remitting business. Zigelman is in addition charged with two counts of aiding in the preparation of fraudulent income tax returns. Zeivald, Lazar, Naiman, and Friedman are charged in the main conspiracy count and with operating an illegal money remitting business. Zeivald is in addition charged with one count of mail fraud. Roth is charged in both conspiracy counts; several mail fraud counts; and several international money laundering counts. Kantor is charged in both of the conspiracy counts and several international money laundering counts.
The charges laid are that over a period of 10 years the conspirators solicited USD8.7 million in contributions to these charitable organizations, promising to secretly refund to the donors up to 95%, allowing the donors to claim the full amounts of the donations as tax deductions on their federal income tax returns. According to the FBI, this was done in two ways: Some donors received cash payments through an underground money transfer network involving Zeivald, Naiman, Friedman, and Lazar, some of whom operated businesses in and around the Los Angeles jewelry district. Other donors were reimbursed via loans made from the United States branch of an Israeli bank, organized by Roth and Kantor and secured on funds secretly held in that bank in Israel, to which the donations had been sent via wire transfer.
Several of the Brooklyn charitable organizations are schools. One such is Yeshiva Imrei Yosef, a private Orthodox Jewish school for boys in grades PK–12 with 312 students, which is one of 5000 such organizations approved for charitable donations by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles draws a parallel between these charges and the creation of bogus schools in the case of New Square, quoting Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, as saying “I think that in Eastern Europe, especially where corruption was rampant, it was very common for Jews to engage in, shall we say, ‘extra-legal activities’ when they believed they were doing so not for their personal gain but for the good of the community or for some higher purpose.”
His observation is that defrauding a corrupt government is part of the culture that has sometimes been carried in to the United States, and that people justify it when they believe that the money is going towards Jewish education. “I think the idea is that Jewish education is so important and so expensive and the folks say to themselves, ‘we’re forced to pay for public education which we don’t use’, and they manage to sometimes justify in their own minds these kinds of activities that are for the sake of a holy end.”
Sarna states that violating the law is not condoned by Jewish communities in the U.S., a sentiment that has been echoed in reactions from the Los Angeles Jewish community, such as that by Rabbi Meyer H. May, president of the Rabbinical Council of California: “One thing is clear: The Orthodox community deplores any attempt to defraud the government of the United States, and there is no excuse for it, and there’s no rationalizations that are acceptable. […] It’s against the Torah and it’s against our moral foundation. At the same time, regarding these specific individuals, they should be allowed to have a fair trial, as everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”
The FBI’s press release contains a similar reminder of the presumption of innocence.
Calls by the New York Times were unable to obtain any comments on the case from the defendants.