A top official in Israel tried to intimidate Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto – who claims Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm shook him down for donations, sources familiar with the investigation – likely Pinto's attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Arthur Aidala – told the New York Post.
Above: Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto
Last updated at 2:32 pm CDT
As you read the New York Post report below, remember two key facts the Post chose not to report:
1. Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto's associates allegedly stole millions of dollars in food and other donations earmarked for Holocaust survivors. It was a criminal investigation into those thefts from the Hazon Yeshaya charity that allegedly prompted Pinto to try to bribe senior police officers to get inside details of that investigation. In his pea bargain with state prosecutors, Pinto reportedly admitted to personally benefiting from $1.2 million of that stolen money.
2. Cops recorded the key bribe – $100,000 in Swiss francs – being given. The recipient was wearing a wire. The person who delivered the bribe was Pinto's wife, who served as Pinto's bag man. She tried to commit suicide after she and her husband were arrested shortly after the attempted bribe.
Knowing those key facts makes Pinto a much less likable figure, and makes the spin of much of the Post's reporting ring false – which is likely why the Post left those facts out.
Who is guilty here? Grimm? Pinto? Biton? Ne'eman? Likely all of them and many more. To present Pinto as a victim is bizarre.
The only true victims in this sordid tale are the hundreds of poor elderly Holocaust survivors who died hungry because of the Hazon Yeshaya embezzlement – yet the New York Post says nothing about it.
Alan Dershowitz has long track record of representing the most vile clients, and of unethically using the media to push what have later turned out to be false claims about opponents – like, for example, his smear of Sam Kellner.
That Dershowitz (and Arthur Aidala, disgraced former Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes' close associate and backer) chose to defend a haredi rabbi who admits he lived in luxury on money stolen from poor Holocaust survivors is despicable, and if Dershowitz's conduct toward Sam Kellner wasn't evidence enough to boot Dershowitz out of the Jewish community he claims to love, his conduct here with Pinto's case should be. There are lots of defense attorneys in the world and there is no ethical need for Dershowitz to defend or aid Pinto – unless, of course, Dershowitz is donating his entire fee to a legitimate nonprofit that feeds poor Holocaust survivors in Israel. But he isn't. (And if he claims to be defending Pinto for free, that only makes his lack of ethics worse.)
Here's the NY Post's report, which appears to have been spoonfed to it by (no surprise here) Dershowitz and Aidala:
A top official in Israel tried to intimidate the rabbi who claims Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm shook him down for donations, sources familiar with the investigation told The Post.
The FBI is investigating allegations by Orthodox mystic Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who testified against Grimm in 2010.
In 2011, then-Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, a follower of the rabbi, visited Pinto at his home in the city of Ashdod in southern Israel and told him that if he continued to cooperate with the FBI, “you’re going to have a disaster in Israel,” a source told The Post. “In Israel they’re going to ruin you.”
“The rabbi started off as a victim and did the right thing by seeking out law enforcement, and now has been victimized once again,” said Arthur Aidala, Pinto’s Manhattan lawyer. He has been joined by famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, who is a follower and longtime friend of the rabbi.
It is unclear whether Grimm was directly involved, but Pinto’s supporters believe he exerted his own pressure on Israeli power brokers fearful of losing the Republican congressman as a supporter.
Grimm, who pleaded not guilty to tax fraud, perjury and obstruction in April — charges related to a Manhattan restaurant he owned — is the co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus. In 2011 during a trip to the country, he described attending “an intimate meeting” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A year after Neeman’s visit, Pinto, who divides his time between Ashdod and Manhattan, was charged with extortion in Israel. In October 2012, he was placed under house arrest, accused of paying a senior police official in exchange for information on an investigation which involved him and a branch of his charity, Shuva Israel.
Two weeks ago, Pinto struck a deal with Israeli authorities to plead guilty.
Pinto’s supporters say the guilty plea was made under duress when Israeli authorities threatened to press charges against Pinto’s ailing wife.
And they characterized the rabbi’s payments — several hundred thousand dollars — to senior police commander Ephraim Bracha as aid to a loyal follower. In fact, Pinto was open about the payments to his FBI handlers who even informed Israeli authorities, said the source.
In a statement, Grimm’s office denied any connection. “The notion that the congressman has even the slightest ability to influence legal matters in Israel is completely ridiculous and absurd on its face,” it wrote.
Pinto, a descendant of two Sephardic rabbinical dynasties and one of the wealthiest religious leaders in Israel, counts LeBron James, disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner and Ofer Yardeni, a founder of Stonehenge Partners, among his followers and associates. He is considered like a saint among his supporters, who follow him with cultlike devotion.
Grimm, 44, was one of them, at least until Pinto sparked a federal investigation against the congressman when he went to authorities to report that he was the victim of an alleged extortion scheme carried out by two former members of his inner circle, Israeli entrepreneur Ofer Biton and p.r. executive Ronn Torossian.
A close associate of the rabbi wrote a check for $135,000 to RDT, a consulting firm controlled by Torossian, according to court papers. More money flowed in from other followers. By May 2010, Biton had invested $500,000 in a business venture as a first step to securing a US investor’s visa. Torossian has denied any wrongdoing.
When the demands for money continued, Pinto and his wife reached out to Grimm, a former Marine and FBI agent who had been introduced to the rabbi by Biton. It’s unclear how Biton and Grimm knew each other.
Grimm promised to make the problems with Torossian and Biton go away if the rabbi prevailed upon his supporters to donate to Grimm’s first run for Congress in 2010, according to the source.
A large portion of Grimm’s donations for the November 2010 election came from the Orthodox Jewish community. There were accusations that some donations were over the $4,800 limit prescribed by federal campaign-finance rules and were made by foreign nationals, who are prohibited from donating.
If convicted in a trial that begins in December, Grimm faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Grimm has called the charges against him “a political witch hunt.” He is seeking a third term in a close race against former City Councilman Dominic Recchia.
[Hat Tip: The Lion.]