Today is the second installment in the Israeli-American soap opera I’m calling the Pinto-Grimm scandal. Yesterday, I reported on the millionaire miracle rabbi who made his followers wishes come true and the leeches who preyed on him. One of the latter was U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm. Grimm, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in his Congressional district, served as an undercover FBI agent (Hebrew) busting New York mafia families. When he broke cover and left the agency, he remained a little too cozy with his former chums in the mob, one of whom became his partner in running a New York health food chain. Grimm also adopted some of the same methods of extortion and preying on the weak that he’d seen his friends use during his days inside the mob. That’s how he and Rabbi Pinto’s chief of staff, Ofer Biton, allegedly developed a plot to extort tons of cash from the rabbi and his followers.
In today’s episode of As the Rabbi’s Court Turns, I’ll introduce two new players in the drama/farce. One is Ronn Torossian, the Israeli-American influence peddler cum PR flack who runs an agency 5WPR. Among his clients have been the crooked kosher meat processors, the Rubashkin family and Birthright Israel. He counts among his close friends, Jerusalem’s far-right mayor, Nir Barkat. But his special friend is MK Danny Danon, the world Likud Party chair and up and coming force in Israeli far-right politics. Danon has been a client for the past ten years (here is a Torossian video featuring Danon). His rise inside Israeli politics can be directly traced to the donors and American Jewish leaders Torossian lines up to support and promote him.
The two even teamed up to found a mysterious non-profit, Community Action Centers Project (CACP), through which they funneled various sums of unknown origins. A reader of this blog, Oui, discovered that CACP received an $800,000 gift in 2011 from Donors Trust Fund. The notation on the Donors Trust 990 (pg. 57) is “for the Florida project.”
As I’ve written here, Donors Trust is a massive donor-advised fund created by the Koch Brothers. They allow mega-wealthy far-right donors to funnel large amounts into the Funds, then to direct smaller gifts to individual non-profits, and to remain anonymous doing so. The gifts are given in the name of the Funds, while the donor gets his tax-deduction along with anonymity. If you’re worried about political controversy, as Barre Seid was when he funneled his $18-million gift to Clarion Fund to promote its Islamophobic film, Obsession, this is perfect way to keep things cool (unless someone makes a mistake as Clarion did in inadvertently exposing Seid’s identity).
CACP’s 2011 IRS 990 form lists $900,000 in donation received, but doesn’t list the Donors Trust gift. Further, there seems to be some contradiction between the mission of the non-profit and the grants it’s given. The above 990 says it supports:
Diverse individuals who support Israeli history, culture and traditions.
Guidestar reports its mission more expansively as:
Reduce juvenile delinguency and provide youth education programs and activities with the aim of developing more spiritually aware and diverse individuals who respect Israeli history, culture and traditions.
The 2012 990 lists only one grant of $45,000. The region specified is “Middle East” and purpose is “education.” No recipient is listed. The 2011 990 lists a grant of $100,000 to American Friends of Dor VaDor, an Orthodox Brooklyn charity distributing food packages on Jewish holidays. Another $150,000 grant went to Im Eshkachech, a New Jersey branch of Young Israel, the pro-Israel religious-nationalist group. It’s unclear to me how these grants have anything to do with CACP’s stated mission of reducing juvenile delinquency or helping youth.
When the Israeli journalist, Amir Zohar, asked Danon and Torossian about the purpose of CACP and the source of the funds that passed through it, the partners refused to answer. Further, Danon claims to have renounced his partnership in the venture.
Torossian also flacked for Danon’s requisite vanity political manifesto, Israel: the Will to Prevail. You know these books. They’re the political equivalent of a coming out party that introduces a rising star to his presumed audience. In one of his pieces of promotional hype, Torossian said of the book: “Zeev Jabotinsky lives in Danon’s book.” Between 2010-2012, Torossian, Grimm and Danon wrote scores of articles in which they demanded that Pres. Obama apologize for a myriad of offenses including being too cozy with Abu Mazen and the Iranians.
When Rep. Grimm traveled to Israel he brought two other Republican colleagues with him and they were guests of the Knesset. At the time, MK Danon was deputy Knesset speaker. Though the Israeli swears that he has never met Grimm and wouldn’t know him from Adam. This from an Israeli who boasts about his close ties to members of Congress with whom he works to further Israel’s interests.
Yet another reason Danon may’ve wanted to distance himself from Grimm is that on that trip the NY Congressman and his GOP buddies drank themselves into a stupor and decided to go skinny-dipping in the Kinneret, the same lake on which Jesus walked (though presumably He was more sober at the time).
Danon’s pal, Torossian, also is trying to separate himself from Grimm, saying he never met him or raised funds for him. But in fact, Torossian is quoted in New York publications as doing just that and saying of the Congressman at an intimate fundraiser where $100,000 was raised:
“My good friend and one of the best friends Israel has in Congress.”
NOTE: Since publishing this post, I’ve received word from an Israeli source that the minister heard of FBI wiretaps may not be Danny Danon as I state below. Though I have the name of this minister, I won’t publish it until I can confirm his identity more surely.
All of these denials are further cast into doubt by the News1 report I posted yesterday, which indicated that the FBI has passed to Israeli prosecutors wiretaps in which Danon is heard conspiring against Rabbi Pinto in order to protect Grimm. I also find it hard to believe that senior Israeli police commanders would come to the aid of a U.S. Congressman unless a very powerful Israeli had importuned them to do so. That’s also the belief of the FBI and they have the evidence to prove it.
Now, lets turn to Torossian’s other partner in crime, Ofer Biton. Starting as a small-time hood in Kiryat Malachi, eventually Biton was arrested for drug dealing. He was already a follower of Rabbi Pinto, who suggested that he skip the country and await a cooling of the case against him. Pinto sent him to Los Angeles, where Biton was welcomed by another follower who was a diamond merchant and Hollywood party-goer. But Biton didn’t like the job of being his driver and gofer, so he branched out into the Los Angeles drug trade organized by the Jerusalem mob.
After this stint, Biton moved to New York where he became involved in the pornographic film industry. The Forward reports that the Israeli is not the only close Pinto adviser involved in the porno industry. Ben Zion Suky, who is one of his closest advisers, is active both in producing (and bootlegging) porno films AND in Manhattan real estate (how’s that for a career?).
Eventually (yes, it does seem like a Wes Anderson film), after making his back to Rabbi Pinto’s court, Biton abandoned his sordid past and became a baal teshuvah. He became the rabbi’s chief fixer and aide-de-camp. One of his jobs was to travel throughout the world to the rabbi’s donors and followers. He accepted envelopes filled with cash intended to finance Pinto’s dream of purchasing an Eastside building in which to house his yeshiva, Shuvah Yisrael. Biton also began dabbling in real estate himself.
Though Pinto placed implicit trust in Biton, an old dog doesn’t learn new tricks. Once a scumbag always one. Biton couldn’t resist siphoning off significant amounts of cash for himself, which he laundered through Israeli connections. It was these funds the FBI unsuccessfully asked the Israeli police to help trace as part of their campaign against Grimm.
Torossian teamed up with Biton in the scheme to bilk Rabbi Pinto’s followers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Grimm’s 2010 Congressional campaign. Many of the donations were illegal because they came from Israelis living in New York who were not citizens. This seems to have been lost on the hapless and greedy duo who funneled $500,000 into Grimm’s coffers. Among other things they promised donors, is that if elected Grimm would help them get their own green cards. In fact, a grateful Grimm did help Biton get his U.S. green card. This wasn’t easy of course, due to Biton’s dubious past. The Israeli eventually ended up pleading guilty to immigration fraud. The FBI has been hoping to turn Biton as state’s witness against Grimm. But so far, this hasn’t happened.
H/t to Noam.