July 23, 2009
The investigation netted 44 defendants -- 29 on corruption charges and 15 for alleged money laundering, acting U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra Jr. said at a news conference.
Among the 15 are five rabbis, including the national leader of the Syrian Jewish community. They are alleged to have laundered more than $3 million in a "high-volume, international money-laundering conspiracy," Marra said. Their alleged dealings stretched to Israel and Switzerland.
"These complaints paint a disgraceful picture of religious leaders heading money-laundering crews, acting as crime bosses. They used purported charities ... as vehicles for laundering millions of dollars in illicit funds," Marra said.
The rabbis named in the criminal complaints are accused of setting up charitable tax-exempt organizations at their synagogues that they used to launder money.
According to the criminal complaints, a confidential witness working for federal authorities approached the rabbis and offered to make donations to the charities in return for the rabbis writing back a check to the undercover agent. The rabbis collected a fee for the service by writing a smaller check back, sometimes returning $45,000 for a $50,000 donation to the charity, the complaints said. Read more