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New Charges in Rep. Grimm Case, Israeli Police Chief and Former Minister Under Suspicion

I hope you’ll bear with me in this post.  I’m going to tie together some disparate characters ranging from a crooked police chief, to a wonder rabbi, and a mobbed-up Congressman.  This will take us geographically from Tel Aviv to New York and Washington DC.  I promise it will be a fun, interesting ride.

Diana Durand

Diana Durand

If you recall the series of posts I’ve been writing about Rep. Michael Grimm and his infamous dirty campaign money, there’s been a new development.  Yesterday, the Justice Department charged Diana Durand, a Grimm fundraiser and friend, with violating election laws by creating “straw” donors to Grimm’s 2010 Congressional race.  She illegally gave $10,000 above and beyond the $4,800 she was legally entitled to give.

Now, let’s swing back to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, the Israeli miracle rabbi, who also played a role in the same Grimm campaign.  Pinto and Grimm at one time were friends and the Congressman, due to his background as a former FBI agent, was a paid consultant to the rabbi who offered him security services.  Though much about the internal dynamics of their relationship is not known, Pinto appears to have offered Grimm a list of his largest donors.  The latter arranged for two Israelis with questionable pasts, Ronn Torossian and Ofer Biton to solicit gifts from these individuals.  When they heard the rabbi had asked them to help Rep. Grimm, they ponied up $500,000.

Among other gross violations, they promised non-citizens that their donation would bring help from Grimm in getting a green card.  Also, campaign donations from non-citizens are illegal.  Finally, the solicitors asked for gifts that exceeded individual campaign limits and told donors they would figure out how to circumvent the limits.  Durand’s scheme seems to have been at least one of the ways.

Pinto salutes his 'friends' in the Israeli police (Biderman/Haaretz)

Pinto salutes his ‘friends’ in the Israeli police (Biderman/Haaretz)

Interestingly, the FBI has not yet charged Grimm with any crime.  That is likely because they’ve had trouble till now lining up witnesses.  They secured a conviction against Biton for immigration fraud, but he’s refused to testify against Grimm.  Israeli media say that Rabbi Pinto is a government witness.  But his participation in the case has been hampered by the fact that the Israeli police charged Pinto with bribing a police commander.  It would be difficult for the Justice Department to use such a witness at trial since his credibility would be compromised with such a charge hanging over his head.

That may be why the FBI decided to go after a smaller fish like Durand.  Perhaps they can pick the lower-hanging fruit which will lead higher up the tree.  To do this, they will have to amass a series of convictions of these smaller fry to make up for the lack of bigger fish like Biton or Pinto.

Let’s return to the Israeli part of this saga: after being charged with bribing an Israeli police commander, the rabbi’s circle circulated his version of the story, which noted that his wife had been helping the commander’s wife for years with financial assistance that was wholly unrelated to a bribe.

Israeli reporters like Amir Zohar and publications like News1 reported far more troubling news: that there were wiretaps of Israeli police commanders threatening to harm Pinto if he testified against Grimm.  There was even talk of a “former senior minister” (Hebrew) heard making incriminating statements on the tapes.

rabbi yoshiyahu pinto arbiv leviev

Rabbi Pinto (c.) with commander of police serious crime unit Arbiv (l.) and diamond billionaire, Lev Leviev (r.)

Zohar reported that it was the FBI who initiated the wiretaps because it was furious with the Israeli justice system for interfering in its case against Grimm.  The wiretaps were reportedly passed on to the State prosecutor who investigates police wrongdoing.  My question about the wiretap is whether the FBI would wiretap Israeli citizens inside Israeli.  In this era of NSA spying, that would seem to open a hornet’s nest that would immensely complicate Israel-U.S. relations.

This may soon be cleared up because Maariv reports that a mysterious ‘interesting’ individual landed in Israel yesterday, who bore tapes and documents that may be those which Amir Zohar spoke of.  We shall perhaps find out whether this was an FBI agent or representative of the U.S. government.  An Israeli journalist told me a rumor he’d heard identified the figure as Ofer Biton, a former gabbai for Rabbi Pinto and fundraiser for Grimm convicted of immigration fraud.  The only reason I doubt this is that first, Biton has refused to cooperate with the FBI investigation of Grimm; and because I doubt Biton would have documents and audiotapes of his own (unless the FBI gave them to him).  Intriguingly, Rabbi Pinto himself will be arriving in Israel this weekend.  Could there be a dramatic meeting among Pinto, the mystery man with the evidence and State prosecutors seeking to evaluate the evidence and case against Danino and others?

But there is no doubt that Israel’s national police commander, Yochanan Danino, has also become implicated in this investigation.  My own Israeli confidential source has confirmed that it is Danino who is the target of the new investigation and his involvement caused the State to seek a gag order to both protect him and prevent Israelis from learning about the case.  The new evidence, first brought to the attorney general’s attention by Pinto’s Israeli lawyers, also caused the State to freeze the prosecution of Pinto.

The Israeli police today issued a bizarre, plaintive statement which essentially begged the Israeli media to stop reporting the story.  The press release, clearly written at Danino’s behest, warned the media not to besmirch the good name of the entire force.  It seemed almost as if Danino resigned himself to the fact that he will be tarnished by the coming scandal.

So the primary questions are: is Danino one of the voices heard on the tapes?  And who is the former senior minister also allegedly heard.  The second question is especially thorny since I’ve heard rumors, but not been able to substantiate them.  Here is my educated guess: the minister is Yaakov Neeman.  He was justice minister in 2010 when charges were brought against Pinto.  He is also no longer in the cabinet, thus making him a ‘former minister.’  Given the fact that his cabinet portfolio dealt precisely with legal matters, including the Pinto investigation, it makes him a prime candidate.

To test my theory, I called Neeman’s law office and got right through to him.  I asked if I could ask him a few questions about the Pinto-Bracha case.  His first response was that he doesn’t give interviews since he left government.  Then I asked if I could ask him one question.  He replied humorously: “You can ask and I won’t answer.”  I asked him if he’d read the Maariv story linked above about the “former senior minister.”  He professed not to have read it.  I told him the article referred to an official who is accused of intervening in the Pinto case.  Was was that him?  He answered: “You are the first person who has called to ask this question.  I have not read the article.  I don’t know anything.”

I’d call that a non-response response.  If he was not involved he would’ve denied it outright.  Of course, this is no smoking gun.  But it’s circumstantial evidence that maintains Neeman as one of the most likely suspects.

danino zevuloni

Rebbetzin Bruriah Zevuloni offering Police Chief Yochanan Danino a good-luck hamsa

Let’s return to Danino.  Here I’d like to introduce the wife (or “Rebbetzin” in Hebrew) of another Israeli wonder rabbi, Bruriah Z’vuloni.  Her husband was ranked 13th on the Forbes list of Israel’s richest rabbis, with assets of $5-million.  One of her major roles is as “arbitrator” (if this were The Godfather, she might be called consigliere) of disputes among Israel’s major crime families.  Anyone who’s seen a Godfather movie knows that what the mafia often needs is someone who can mediate among rival families before they shoot each other’s brains out.  I’m certain she doesn’t do this gratis.  Everything comes with a price.  After the deal is signed there are certainly good-will donations from all the families involved to the good Rabbi.

Rebbetzin Z’vuloni seems the right woman for the job.  First, she’s a woman and hence non-threatening.  Second, she’s a Rebbetzin and therefore has the ‘God-Housekeeping’ sign of approval.  Third, she’s known and trusted by everyone from the highest to the lowest due to her husband’s sacred stature.

She’s also known to get quite involved in the affairs of her “clients.”  She’s even been arrested and accused of interfering in a criminal investigation (of her mob customers).

When I said “highest to lowest” I meant that literally: the typical wonder rabbi’s following ranges from CEOs, to police chiefs, to cabinet ministers, to mafiosi.  Imagine the rabbi’s court with hundreds celebrating a Jewish holiday and all seeking his blessing.  It’s a mad house, but one the hasidim of such wonder-workers adore.

The Rebbetzin crosses lines.  She knows the cops, she knows the mob.  And they all love her.  In fact, three months before Chief Danino was appointed to his current job and before he was even a candidate, she texted him saying he would be the next Chief.   He replied that he wasn’t even a candidate, to which she responded: “Candidate or no, you will be Israel’s next police chief.”

If you are a believer all this seems miraculous and divinely inspired.  But if you are like me you wonder whether she knew something or someone who knew something.  In fact, you strongly suspect it.  Either she knew someone on the good side of the law or the bad who’d determined Danino was their man.  And what if it was the mob that wanted and got him?  Or a combination of official Israel and the underworld?

I wouldn’t scoff if I were you.  Danino and the entire Israeli police force has a sordid reputation.  In reporting this story, Haaretz said that Danino’s reign has displayed a “culture of lying and cover-ups to its very roots.”  Now, Danino is up to his eyeballs in a scandal that may involve a perversion of justice.

But let’s keep our eye on the prize: while Danino and Neeman are big fish in Israel, Grimm is the one the FBI is after.  Imagine, a Congressman who sits in Congress almost a made-man.  If not a mafiosi himself, then one studied in the ways of the mob and suffused with connections to it.  The Justice Department doesn’t want such people sitting in the U.S. Congress, and for good reason.

But undoubtedly, Grimm is smart.  Very smart.  He may be so smart that he’s charmed key figures in official Israel (perhaps in the Prime Minister’s residence) who may be going to bat for him.  If that is the case, then this becomes a case of international intrigue involving shady political and law enforcement figures on two continents.

I couldn’t help be tickled by Anshel Pfeffer’s over the top tweet on behalf of his Haaretz colleague, who published a new story about Rabbi Pinto today:

While the story adds some imporant information regarding previous FBI-Israeli police interaction regarding Rabbi Pinto, its author certainly doesn’t “own” the story. Not that Gidi Weitz isn’t an excellent reporter. He just doesn’t own the story, at least in part because he’s bound by a gag order preventing him from reporting important elements of it.

Stay tuned for the next episode: MK Danny Danon and Ronn Torossian’s “beautiful” and lucrative friendship.

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • shmuel January 15, 2014, 6:56 AM

    Just now on Channel 10 – Israeli court has cancelled the gag on the story and it can be published as of 8 tomorrow morning

  • Shoshana January 15, 2014, 9:45 AM
    • Oui January 15, 2014, 1:44 PM

      No mention of Mike Grimm (R-NY). Would in the US, DoJ / FBI come forward with their part of the investigation tomorrow?

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 1:45 PM

    FBI Investigation Into Mike Grimm (R) Fundraising

    CREW’s Report Most Corrupt In Congress – Michael Grimm [page 68]

    According to the Washington Post, investigators also are examining whether Rep. Grimm went into business with a restaurateur – presumably Mr. Orfaly – with connections to organized crime. (65) The exact allegations under investigation are unclear.

    (65) Paul Kane, House Ethics Committee Opens Probe of Grimm, Washington Post, November 26, 2012; Mitchel Maddux and Dan Mangan, SI Pol’s Partner Is Capo’s Good Pal, Grimm Has ‘Foodfella’ Link to Jailed Gambino, New York Post, October 8, 2012; Cowan, New York Times, Oct. 8, 2012; Paul Kane, Ethics committee again defers to Justice Department in Rep. Grimm probe, Washington Post, November 26, 2013.

    Since 2012, Rep. Grimm’s campaign committee has incurred $569,251.67 in legal fees to Patton Boggs.
    [Source: Michael Grimm for Congress, FEC Form 3]

    Rabbi Pinto questioned and placed under house arrest in Israel Oct. 11, 2012
    NY-11: FBI Arrests Mike Grimm’s (R) Big Fundraiser

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 2:14 PM

    Texas woman in Grimm fundraising flap hires ex-FBI agent with Staten Island ties to defend her

    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. (SI-live) – Diana Durand, 47, of Houston, has hired attorney Stuart Kaplan, of the Kaplan and Sconzo law firm in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to defend her against charges of lying to federal agents and violating campaign finance regulations.

    Kaplan and Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) are both former FBI agents, and both had served in the New York office. Kaplan said he served from 1995 to 2006, the same years that Grimm served with the bureau.

    Kaplan, who also served the FBI in Florida, declined to say whether he knew Grimm, and declined to say whether Grimm had anything to do with Ms. Durand becoming his client.

    But Federal Election Commission records show that Kaplan donated $1,500 to Grimm’s campaign in 2009.

  • kathy January 15, 2014, 3:01 PM

    Stop trying so hard to find dirt on someone who is trying their hardest for this country and you would have mentioned that had you done your homework. Not only was he fbi but in military and a lawyer. Why would you try to create havoc in someones life who is also doing a good job for staten island.

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 8:42 PM

    YnetNews: Gag order lifted

    The only senior police officer whose name is mentioned in a statement issued by the Justice Ministry regarding the investigation is officer Menashe Arviv.

    The department of internal affairs with the Israel Police stated that “recently, a probe was launched regarding officer Menashe Arviv, following information handed several weeks ago to the attorney general and the state prosecutor, attributing felonies of bribe, from sources affiliated with Rabbi Pinto, to the officer. At this stage, Arviv has yet to be questioned.”

    FBI investigation

    As part of a settlement with the FBI, a blackmail complaint filed by Pinto forced the rabbi to testify against Michael Grimm, a New York Republican Congressman and a former FBI agent. Pinto’s agreement with the FBI required that the rabbi’s phone be wiretapped and that he would divulge any information regarding financial transaction associated with the Hazon Yishaya organization.

    In the last 24 hours, an FBI representative landed in Israel together with recordings, documents, e-mail copies, and other materials that allegedly confirm the claims of Rabbi Pinto in regards to his link to the senior police officers.

    Also breaking news in Haaretz.

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 9:08 PM

    Secrecy and “intelligence” trumps all, the Lindenstauss investigation – Maariv [Hebrew] –
    Sources Assassination Failure: “Significant Deficiencies in Police Operation”

    Police chief among top brass probed in informant deaths

    (Haaretz) Oct. 29, 2008 – The first victim was Eyal Salhov, of Bnei Brak, who provided information to the police from inside Avi Ruhan’s crime organization over an eight-year period. The second victim, who can be identified only as N., was an informant inside the Jerussi crime family. No one has ever been arrested for either of the two murders.

    The documents show that a number of police officers gave repeated warnings before the murders, and afterwards demanded a thorough investigation of the failures that led up to the deaths, but that they were ignored.

    The head of the investigations branch, Maj. Gen. Yohanan Danino, was aware at the time of the danger to Salhov’s life, and ordered a comprehensive check-up of the matter. However, as far as is known, that was never carried out, nor did Danino follow up.

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 9:12 PM

    “Pinto has served as an adviser to a battery of Israel’s elite, including businessman Yitzhak Tshuva, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, former justice minister Yaakov Neeman and floundering business tycoon Nochi Dankner.”
    [Source: JPost]

    Head Of Israel’s “FBI” Allegedly Took Bribes From Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto

    The investigative material gathered in the case so far has reportedly been shared with Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Pinto’s lawyers. The suspect is Maj. Gen. Menashe Arviv, who heads Lahav 433 unit. Lahav 433 includes the national fraud squad, the serious and international crimes unit, and the financial investigations unit.

    Before heading Lahav 433, Arviv was the Israel’s police attaché in the United States.

    In May 2011, Israeli and American police were conducting a joint investigation into Pinto and a nonprofit organization, Hazon Yeshaya, which he controlled.

    Police believe that Ben Zion Suky – an Israeli national who lives in Manhattan, is one of Pinto’s closest disciples, and who was for a significant amount of time a distributor of pornography – repeatedly bribed Arviv with Pinto’s knowledge.

    Lahav 433 arrested Pinto and his wife in October 2012 on suspicion of trying to bribe another police officer, Ephraim Bracha, to get information about the Hazon Yeshaya investigation. Arviv was not yet the head of Lahav 433 at that time.

    In his defense, Pinto claimed that Bracha was one of his disciples. He said he often gave Bracha money to help Bracha and his family.

    Police do not deny that Bracha was a follower of Pinto. But they insist Bracha did nothing wrong and reported Pinto’s bribe to the then-head of the investigations and intelligence department, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich. Police then videotaped Pinto’s wife delivering alleged bribe money to Bracha, and that led to the Pintos’ arrest.

    • Oui January 15, 2014, 10:46 PM

      JPost was late with their article on the case and has not revealed as many details as YnetNews. This struck me as interesting … still no word in reference to US Congressman Mike Gramm. Knesset commission starts investigation in full secrecy.

      Senior police commander Lahav 433 unit is suspect in Rabbi Pinto bribery case

      Late Wednesday night, Channel 2 reported that there were disagreements between elements of the defense establishment and of the Justice Ministry on agreements reached with Pinto’s defense counsel.

      • Richard Silverstein January 16, 2014, 3:08 AM

        @ Oui: Defense ministry? What could they be hiding or afraid of, unless Grimm is important to them as well?

  • Oui January 15, 2014, 9:16 PM

    Menashe Arviv is still small fry, bigger fish yet to come. Seems FBI and Israëli investigation were NOT coordinated, but separate. Avriv played a crucial role in both.

    PS Need to get back to sleep before morning.

  • Haim January 15, 2014, 10:41 PM

    There’s no “bigger fish”. There’s no “former minister” either. There’s an attempt by FBI to build a case against Grimm (vengeance? jealousy? desire to get promoted?). To save their case, FBI, hilariously, is trying to save the skin of an obviously corrupt snake charmer who is (almost certainly) going to trial in Israel.

    There’s no “right-wing plot” to save Grimm. There’s no connection to Netanyahu. There was no leak of FBI materials that led to Pinto investigation in Israel as you claimed in the beginning. Because of your crazy political beliefs, you’ve managed to get all the details leaked to you wrong in the end.

    • Richard Silverstein January 16, 2014, 3:12 AM

      @ Haim: First, while I agree that Pinto is corrupt, the question is whether he’s more or less corrupt than those he allegedly bribed. As for Pinto going to trial, the State prosecutor seems to disagree with you as the case is suspended against Pinto. Glad he’s running the show there & not you.

      In this blog, we demand facts & evidence. The word “no” is not evidence.

  • Karl January 16, 2014, 12:41 AM

    You’ve talked with Ya’akov Neeman and came away unharmed. Consider yourself lucky: Few people encounter have talked with him and live to tell the world.

    On another matter, isn’t it a strange coincidence that Danino, who is dumb enough to boast being hand picked for his job by the Israeli Mafia, gets involved with the Israeli Mafia?

    • Richard Silverstein January 16, 2014, 3:07 AM

      @ Karl: I made sure to talk with him by phone. A personal encounter might’ve turned out differently!

  • Anony January 16, 2014, 1:05 AM

    Interestingly despite the lifting of the gag one fact remains yet undisclosed. Namely, the quality and the extent of the bribe allegedly handed over by Suky into Arviv’s hands.

    Any suggestions why this apparently auxiliary information cannot be published?
    Does the partial gag aim to protect Arviv (and/or Pinto’s court) from farther embarrassment due to the nature of the alleged kickback?

    • Richard Silverstein January 16, 2014, 3:06 AM

      @ Anony: Arviv took many bribes from Shuky & I’ve not yet heard anyone quantify it yet. This will come out if there is a trial. Note I said “if.”

  • Anony January 16, 2014, 4:22 AM

    I do appreciate (and indeed: share) you big IF.

    However, there undoubtedly is a question of quantification and since Pinto’s lawyers claim to possess receipts and bills there were probably some pecuniary handouts.
    Yet, I guess that some of the alleged payoff may take the form of a non-pecuniary advantages and also that it may farther deprave the parties concerned (obviously, apart from being involved in such an engagement) due to the nature of the “gifts” having regard to the public image they (all, or part of them) would like to preserve.

  • hp December 29, 2014, 3:12 PM

    The Yehuda Triangle
    (New York – Washington – Tel Aviv)

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