NJ corruption probe nets rabbis in money laundering ‘network’
By Robert Wiener • NJJN Staff Writer
NEWARK — The federal corruption probe that led to the arrest Thursday of New Jersey public officials and at least three leading Syrian-Jewish rabbis began with a “pre-existing money laundering network” that operated between Brooklyn, Israel, and the Syrian-Jewish enclave of Deal.
Authorities said the network laundered “at least tens of millions of dollars through charitable, nonprofit entities” controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey.
Acting United States Attorney Ralph Marra Jr. announced the arrests of 44 individuals, mostly public officials, July 23 at a crowded press conference with more than 100 media outlets in attendance
He said the arrests had taken place after a 10-year investigation.
Along with the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus, and Ridgefield, the individuals arrested in the probe include Eliahu Ben Haim of Long Branch, the principal rabbi of Ohel Yaacob Synagogue in Deal; Saul Kassin of Congregation Zion synagogue in Brooklyn, who is considered the chief rabbi of the Syrian-Jewish community; Rabbi Edmund Nahum of Deal; and Mordechai Fish, a rabbi at Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn.
Ben Haim, Kassin, Nahum, and Fish were each charged with laundering proceeds derived from criminal activity, as was Fish’s brother, Rabbi Lavel Schwartz of Brooklyn.
According to the criminal complaints, the rabbis laundered approximately $3 million between June 2007 and July 2009 on behalf of a cooperating witness who would also turn out to be key to the feds’ probe of officials now charged with accepting bribes.
That cooperating witness is reported to be Solomon Dwek, a real estate developer in Monmouth County who was charged in 2006 with scheming to defraud PNC Bank out of $50 million. Dwek is the son of Rabbi Isaac Dwek, a leader in the Sephardi Jewish community, a founder of the Deal Yeshiva, and the head of the Synagogue of Deal. Marra and other federal officials declined to name their cooperating witness.
Sources told the Asbury Park Press that investigators seized documents from the Deal synagogue and the Ohel Yaacob synagogue in Deal on Thursday morning
According to Marra, prosecutors have airtight evidence including audio and video recordings of their witness soliciting and receiving bribes.
The U.S. attorney called the corruption “widespread and pervasive.”
Federal prosecutors are alleging that Ben Haim received checks that ranged in value “from tens of thousands dollars up to $160,000,” made payable to a charity associated with his synagogue in Deal.
The Monmouth County beachfront community is a summertime destination for many members of Brooklyn’s Syrian-Jewish community, who own homes there.
Marra said the cooperating witness “was able to pick up the cash and bring it back to Rabbi Ben Haim. Rabbi Ben Haim would give him back approximately 90 percent of the face value of the bank check.”
According to the complaint, the checks came to Haim from an unnamed business associate in Israel, “who he had worked with for years.”
“The rings were international in scope, connected to Brooklyn, Deal, Israel, and Switzerland,” said Marra. “They trafficked in cleaning dirty money from all over the world.”
More than 100 members of the press corps assembled in the crowded conference rooms to cover the indictments.
The complaint said another Israeli who is under arrest, Levi Deutsch, “was a high-level source of cash from overseas.”
Other “similar circles of money launderers” operated separately in Brooklyn and Deal “but occasionally co-mingled activities and participants,” the prosecutor explained.
“In most cases the rings were led by rabbis who used charitable, nonprofit entities connected to their synagogues to ‘wash’ money they understood came from illegal activities,” said a press release issued by Marra’s office.”
Law enforcement officials were careful to deflect charges of bias.
“The fact that we arrested a number of rabbis this morning does not make this a religiously motivated case. Nor does the fact that we arrested political officials make this a politically motivated case,” said Waysan Dun, the special agent in charge of Newark’s FBI office. “It is about a shocking betrayal of the public trust.”
“Of course it is not religious-related,” Marra told NJ Jewish News after the press conference. “It is group of criminals hiding behind a facade of being religious leaders in order to commit crimes.”
In a separate complaint that grew out of the probe, the federal officials are charging a Brooklyn man, Levy Itzak Rosenbaum, with trafficking in the sale of human kidneys.
“He would pay people desperate for money $10,000 to donate a kidney, then charge recipients $160,000 for the kidney,” Marra charged. The complaint said Rosenbaum has been brokering kidneys for the past 10 years.