Rabbi injured in California synagogue shooting convicted of fraud

SAN DIEGO – A rabbi seriously injured in a deadly anti-Semitic attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Southern California was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison on Tuesday for defrauding a multi-million dollar donation, authorities said.

Yisroel Goldstein, 60, was also ordered to pay around $ 2.8 million in restitution. He pleaded guilty in 2020 to electronic and tax fraud charges.

“I ask for mercy to accept my repentance and allow me to right the wrongs,” Goldstein told the judge upon his sentencing, the San Diego Union-Tribne reported. He asked for “the chance to do all I can to help others to the best of my ability”.

Prosecutors and the defense had both recommended that Goldstein be housebound rather than jailed, citing his cooperation in the investigation into the FBI fraud and the trauma he suffered in the 2019 attack. Prosecutors also said Goldstein played an exemplary role after the April 2019 shooting in defending peace and religious tolerance.

However, Federal Judge Cynthia Bashant said Goldstein should go to jail because he defrauded people who thought they were helping the synagogue “when in fact it was just to profit you,” the Union-Tribune.

“It was for your personal benefit and your own greed, and I cannot ignore that fact,” the judge said.

Goldstein was the longtime leader of the Chabad Synagogue near San Diego, which he founded in San Diego in 1986. He lost his right index finger in the attack on the last day of Passover, which killed a worshiper, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and injured the rabbi and two others.

The rabbi received a wave of support, addressed the United Nations and met with President Donald Trump at the White House.

John T. Earnest, a 22-year-old white supremacist, was sentenced to federal life imprisonment last week, in addition to the life sentence he received three months earlier in state court .

Prior to the attack, Goldstein had been investigated by federal authorities and he resigned as rabbi in November 2019, citing exhaustion.

He was accused of raising $ 6.2 million in bogus donations to the synagogue and its affiliates. Prosecutors said he returned 90% to contributors with fake receipts, allowing them to deduct the full amount of their taxes while Goldstein kept the remaining 10%, or $ 620,000, for himself. One donor recovered their contribution in the form of a million dollars in gold.

The program and others have gone on for years and even decades, prosecutors said, and resulted in federal tax losses, for the synagogue that never received the donations and for the companies that matched the donations. and never collected their contributions.

The rabbi also admitted to taking about $ 185,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services by submitting false invoices for damage from the 2007 wildfires.

At least 20 people were involved in the schemes and a half-dozen, including Goldstein, have pleaded guilty to federal charges, prosecutors said.

Among them, Alexander Avergoon, whose real estate transactions sparked the investigation in November 2016. Avergoon was arrested in Latvia. On Monday, he was sentenced by the same judge to more than five years in prison for the Poway frauds and an unrelated $ 12 million real estate scam.

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