Chosen: Crimes and Misdemeanors

By Shmarya Rosenberg

The Weekly Blotter

Joseph Shereshevsky, the former chief operating officer at WexTrust Capital LLC and an activist in Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities, pleaded guilty to felony counts of securities fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy in Manhattan federal court. Shereshevsky and WexTrust’s founder and chairman, Steven Byers, ran a $255 million dollar ponzi scheme that primarily targeted Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Shereshevsky could face a prison term of more than 21 years in prison, and will have to make restitution to his victims. Beyers previously pleaded guilty. Neither man has yet been sentenced. (Reuters)

The Internet causes cancer, ultra-Orthodox activists say in a new campaign endorsed by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel. Web surfing also causes droughts, activists said,  and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the 100-year-old ultra-Orthodox supreme leader, called the Internet an “abomination,” while Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner labeled it “dangerous and corrupting.” The campaign also uses gematria, a complex system which assigns numeric values to Hebrew letters and then finds relationships between various words based on their numerical value, to prove that Internet equals cancer. (Ynet)

$1.5 million dollars in rare judaica was stolen from Milan’s Central Synagogue by four ultra-Orthodox young men from Israel. They were arrested trying to sell the ancient Torah crowns and other ritual objects to a judaica dealer in Israel. (Ha’aretz)

An arrest warrant was issued for Rabbi Dov Lior, the state-funded Orthodox rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba which abuts Hebron. Lior had previously been summoned by police over his endorsement of a racist book of Jewish law that tells Israelis that it is permissible and even preferable to murder non-Jewish civilians  during wartime. This extends even to non-Jewish babies, if it is likely they will grow up to be opponents of Israel like their parents. Lior refused to answer that summons and after several weeks passed, an arrest warrant was issued for him. The book, Torat Hamelech, Torah of the King, envisions a Jewish theocracy and was written by Chabad followers, Rabbis Yitzchak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. (Jerusalem Post)

A sign posted on the official bulletin board of the largest yeshiva, rabbinical school, in America, the ultra-Orthodox Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, asks its 5,000 students to study a section of the Jewish legal code in order to elevate the Jewish soul of executed cop-killer Martin Grossman on the first anniversary of his execution. Conspicuously absent from the sign is any mention of praying for the victim or her family. (Failed Messiah)

A former member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, who once called Israel’s non-Orthodox majority “a generation of people who look like beasts and behave like two-legged animals,” was returned to the Knesset this week. Israel Eichler is a replacing Rabbi Meir Porush in a United Torah Judaism inter-party rotation arrangement reached after the previous election results were finalized. Commenting on relations between the ultra-Orthodox minority and the rest of Israeli society, Eichler has said that there is “no longer any basis for our being one people.” Eichler has also called Israel “an enemy state”, “a historical national disaster,” and “an evil regime.” (Ynet)

The trial of Wendy Weiner Runge, an ultra-Orthodox filmmaker based in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, began this week in Iowa. Runge is accused of fraudulently acquiring millions of dollars in tax credits and could face more than 25 years in prison. Costs to make her film “The Scientist” appear to be grossly inflated. Runge’s partner Matthias Saunders has already pleaded guilty. Prosecutors alleged rental equipment used for the film was billed at greatly inflated prices to garner more tax credits. Two brooms were billed at $225, six road cones for another $1,350 and stepladders for $900 to $1,350. Runge alleges the charges against her are based on antisemitism. Because of the high prominence of the trial, it is being held at Drake University rather than the Polk County courthouse. (Des Moines Register)

Mark Bennett, a federal judge who sentenced 57 of the 389 immigrant workers arrested at the glatt kosher Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in May 2008, now says the mass guilty pleas made by these undocumented workers were a “travesty.” Bennett makes his allegations in a new documentary film about the raid’s aftermath, “Abused: The Postville Raid.” Bennett said prosecutors were wrong to push hundreds of undocumented workers to sign binding plea agreements that included a five-month prison sentence. “But it’s an executive branch decision, and I didn’t have the power to do anything about it other than not agree to the plea agreement. But if I did that, they would have been held in custody much longer. I found the plea agreement personally and professionally to be offensive, and I thought it was a travesty. And I was embarrassed to be a United States District Court judge that day,” Bennett said. At its time, the raid was  the largest immigration raid in American history. Agriprocessors was owned by the Rubashkin family, who are prominent followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin, the plant’s day-to-day chief executive, is currently serving a 27-year sentence in federal prison for bank fraud, money laundering, perjury and related fraud charges. (Des Moines Register)

The Rubashkin family recently suffered another legal setback, this one in New York State Supreme Court and involving attempts made to conceal the family’s assets – attempts which included almost $3 million in funds transfers from a Swiss bank, Bank Julius Baer & Co., Ltd. of Zurich, Switzerland. (Failed Messiah)

Dr. “A,” a popular Haifa-based pediatrician, was indicted for possession of child porn. Police found tens of thousands of files on his personal computer that contained videos and photos of minors having sex, of adults having sex with children and of children being raped. “The folder contains 83,000 files including close-up shots of the genitals of minors and of sex with minors. The minors in these files are mostly young children, without secondary sex characteristics (pubic hair, breasts and other signs of puberty ),” a police report states. An indictment against Dr. “A” filed in December accuses him of possessing more than 190,000 porn and child porn pictures and videos on his computer. Dr “A” was also charged with disseminating child porn because the child porn on his computer was allegedly available to others via a a computer file sharing program he used. Dr. “A” admits to possessing child porn, but strongly denies disseminating it. He claims there is a “complete separation” between his virtual and his real worlds. While the trial is pending, Dr. “A,” who is secular, continues to practice pediatric medicine. (Ha’aretz)

The Antidote

Jews took 5 of the first 6 spots in an annual list of top U.S. donors to charity, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which compiled the list. George Soros ranked No. 1 with $332 million donated in 2010, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came in second with $279.2 million. Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Eli and Edythe Broad, and Leonard Blavatnik fill spots number 4, 5 and 6 on the Chronicle’s list with donations of $117 million to $119 million. (JTA)

Shmarya Rosenberg publishes His reporting has been cited in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Post, Forward, JTA, Village Voice and many other publications. He was named to both the Forward 50 and the Heeb 100 in 2008.

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