This story begins with Israel’s coterie of wonder rabbis, who parlay their status far beyond the spiritual realm. They’re genuine influence-peddlers who arrange deals, broker truces, and help along the careers of their disciples. Don’t think conventional rabbis, think more along the lines of a mafia don, but one that doesn’t kill people (he is a rabbi after all). Followers pay them for blessings, and if that doesn’t work, the rabbis aren’t averse to using their personal mojo to “move things along.”
One of the best connected of these rabbis is Yoshiyahu Pinto. A Forbes list tallies his net worth at around $18-million. Overall, the magazine finds that $250-million flows into the coffers of these spiritual wheeler-dealers every year.
Pinto divides his ministry between Israel and New York (where his richest followers live). It must be said, that while their dealings and modus operandi seem spiritually dubious to me, if not corrupt, there are far worse criminals who attempt to exploit the financial success of these rabbis.
In New York, a duo of sleazy Israeli con artists attempted to extort Pinto in a protections racket. They demanded an extraordinary sum or they would leak to the media medical reports about the post partum depression from which Pinto’s wife suffered after her last pregnancy. She later attempted to commit suicide when these documents were published.
The rabbi paid the bribe, but then turned around and reported it to Rep. Michael Grimm, himself a former FBI agent. The Israeli hoped that Grimm might help bring the extortionists to justice. In gratitude for his supposed assistance, Pinto allowed Grimm’s accomplices (at least one of whom later plead guilty to a crime) to muscle in on the rabbi’s donors for campaign gifts on Grimm’s behalf. Some of the rabbi’s followers contributed because they were told it would help the spiritual guru. Pinto also paid a Grimm security firm inordinate sums to protect him from the very criminals with whom Grimm was in cahoots. The GOP Congressman had a side deal with one of the extortionists that, in return for the $500,000 he raised, the Congressman would get him a U.S. green card.
Grimm is known as a political intimate of Bibi Netanyahu. He was especially vocal in Congress against U.S. aid to the PA and in favor of a more aggressive posture toward Iran. Grimm, as one of Barack Obama’s strongest foreign policy critics, was an ace in the hole for Bibi in the Cold War he experienced when the President virtually shut him out of foreign policy deliberations on Iran. Apparently, you don’t turn your back on friends like Grimm, as you’ll see by reading on.
Grimm, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island in Congress, is of Italian ancestry. The NY Times has documented Grimm’s ties to a known member of an organized crime family that appears separate from the Pinto case.
Eventually, one of the rabbi’s disciples brought the case to the FBI itself, which began an investigation which turned Grimm from predator to prey. At the moment when Grimm discovered he was being pursued, messages began to arrive at the rabbi’s court from Israeli police officials. They warned Pinto against doing anything to harm Grimm. Only three days after the FBI arrested the first of Grimm’s Israeli accomplices, Israeli police opened their own investigation of Pinto. Among the crimes the Israeli police charged were a slew of corrupt acts (money laundering, tax evasion, theft, embezzlement and fraud) through one of his charities, Hazon Yeshiya.
Shortly thereafter, Israeli police fraud investigator Ephraim Bracha, who’d been a disciple of Pinto for fifteen years and received financial assistance (police claim it was $50,000) from him in the past, attempted to transform this aid into a bribery attempt. In fact, it was the rabbi’s wife, the very person Grimm’s extortionists attempted to smear, who was instrumental in helping Bracha when he needed it, though her own health was impaired.
The FBI was so angry it sent wiretap recordings to Israel’s ministry of justice, on which Israeli police can be heard plotting to physically harm Pinto. Even a senior cabinet minister can be heard making efforts to sabotage the case. The Americans also discovered that one of the rabbi’s confidants, who conspired with Grimm and his accomplices, was also embezzling massive amounts from the rabbi’s charitable funds. The money was then sent on to Israel. When the FBI asked for the Israeli police’s help in tracing the routes of the cash into the Israeli financial system, they got a cold shoulder.
This is how the system works in Israel. If you’re big enough, powerful enough–as Michael Grimm is–you can bend the system for your benefit. Even if it means sabotaging a U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation. This is also an example of how Israel’s best friends in Congress, even the corrupt ones, can call on their allies in Israel to help them.
A good deal, though not all of this, is published in Allison Cowan’s NY Times reporting on the story.
CORRECTION: thanks to Michael Sfard, for correcting an error below. The ministry of justice investigations unit is conducting the probe into possible police perversion of justice. It requested the gag. The police aren’t conducting the inquiry, as I report below.
This may explain why a strange thing has happened. The police have turned to the court and asked for a gag order on the case. They’ve taken an even more draconian measure and demanded that even the existence of the gag order may not be reported (which is why I am doing so). Haaretz reported (Hebrew) that the police were concealing a major case which would cause them deep embarrassment and result in severely tarnishing the reputation of law enforcement throughout the nation. Undoubtedly this is that case.
This proves once again one of my main claims about Israeli gag orders and government secrecy, that it protects the interests of the politically-connected. It is rarely used to protect victims or even the state from serious harm. In this case, it is the reputation of the Israeli police, one of the most corrupt in the western world, that is being protected. Instead of learning the ugly truth about this case, Israelis will be prevented from hearing it. They will have to find their way to websites like this, not even written in their own language. Perhaps an intrepid Israeli journalist might even publish the fact that I’ve spilled the beans here. Though they might have to look over their shoulder in doing so, since the police will not take well to having their secrets spilled publicly.
H/t to Dena Shunra and for further assistance from a trusted source.