Yesterday, an Israeli judge acknowledged the charade that the gag order in the Miracle rabbi case had become. Not only did I break the gag, but virtually all Israeli publications were nibbling at the edges of the story with tantalizing details leaking out. Finally, the justice system decided to put a stake through the heart of the gag and it was lifted two hours ago.
Though the subsequent reports confirm much of what I published over the past few days, there is much new evidence, new crimes and, most of all, reams of unanswered questions. Here is a rough summary of the reporting from the major Israeli dailies: the new character is Israeli police commander, Menashe Arviv, who runs the national police unit for international and serious crimes. Some have called it the Israeli equivalent of the FBI. In 2011, Arviv was an Israeli law enforcement liaison based in New York. There he joined the circle of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, the Moroccan-Israeli “Wonder Rabbi.” Pinto maintains two major centers, one located in his hometown of Ashdod and the other in New York (there are others located in other U.S. and Latin American cities). In each, he has thousands of disciples and maintains what is called in Hasidic circles, a court.
Though we might have in our mind a rabbinic court devoted to spiritual pursuits like study of Torah, ethics, and prayer. These are rabbis of a different kind. While there still may be Torah and prayer. There is also what is called in Yiddish, handeling; or doing business, exchanging goods. The goods may be pornographic films (yes, one of the rabbis chief disciples is a former porn film bootlegger); or they may be political influence; or intelligence. The rabbi, as I’ve pointed out, has followers from all walks of life. Both hustlers and messianists. In this case, we’re interested in the former, as the rabbi seemed to be as well.
Earlier, Rabbi Pinto had also joined forces with U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm, a former undercover FBI agent of Italian-American origin. Grimm’s job as G-man was to infiltrate the NY crime families. After leaving the agency, he made his first run for Congress in 2010. Grimm’s campaign fundraising came in for scrutiny by law enforcement officials for its flagrant disregard for campaign finance laws. Among the donors Grimm fleeced were those already giving to Pinto. It isn’t clear whether Pinto collaborated on this project willingly or whether he was extorted or pressured in some way to do so. At any rate, Grimm’s campaign fundraisers (at least one of them a former gabbai, or aide, to Pinto) took money from non-citizens-a violation of federal law. They promised green cards in return for cash–another violation. And they asked for donations above those legally permissible and told donors they could circumvent the law–another violation.
The FBI doesn’t like putative members of the mob sitting in the halls of Congress. They want Michael Grimm. But Grimm is both smart and has powerful friends. In Israel, he’s made lots of friends, possibly even in the prime minister’s residence. Though I don’t know yet whether these factors combined, around the time the FBI began pressuring Pinto to testify against Grimm, Israeli police announced charges against Pinto of bribery of an Israeli police officer. This did not make the FBI happy. They believed the Israelis were deliberately sabotaging the Grimm investigation.
Pinto agreed to become a prosecution witness against Grimm. As part of this process, the FBI wiretapped the rabbi’s phone and monitored his e-mail and telecommunications. Though they hoped to catch Grimm in this web, instead they caught Israeli police, and even a cabinet minister I identified yesterday as Yaakov Neeman, the justice minister, threatening Pinto. A Maariv reporter confirmed (Hebrew) today my suspicion on this count was correct.
But they caught another fish they hadn’t expected: Maj. Gen. Menashe Arviv. He took bribes from Pinto during his stay in New York:
While serving in this position [in New York], Arviv developed connections with many influential Israelis, including businessman Ben Zion Suky, who lives in Manhattan and is one of Pinto’s disciples. Police now suspect that Suky and Arviv, with Pinto’s knowledge, developed a relationship in which Suky gave Arviv and his family various benefits. This was not a one-time event, but something that occurred repeatedly over the course of years.
In fact, since it’s possible Pinto already had been turned by the FBI, this may’ve been a sting in which Pinto offered the bribe in order to see how Arviv would react. The feds may’ve even directed the rabbi to do this. Once the accused took the bait the FBI had what it needed. It got this on tape realizing (and I’m surmising this based on connecting the dots of the case) it could make a deal the Israeli prosecutors couldn’t refuse. They would hand them a case against Arviv in which Pinto would testify; in return Israel would drop the bribery charges against Pinto. Then the latter could eventually testify against Grimm in U.S. court.
Also, keep in mind that by then there was that bribery charge (by Arviv’s police unit, no less) against Pinto I mentioned. If anyone in Israel expected that this charge would prevent the rabbi from testifying against Grimm, there was a way for the FBI to prevent this. It could hand the Israelis an even bigger fish than Ephraim Bracha. That’s precisely what Arviv is. He’s the fish too big and too good for the State prosecutor to refuse.
After an Israeli journalist reported yesterday that a mysterious stranger had arrived in the country bearing tapes, documents and email logs I guessed that it would be either an FBI agent or a Justice Department lawyer. Today, the Israeli media confirms I was correct. However, another reporter I respect says he understands the mystery man is Rabbi Pinto’s ‘porno king,’ Ben Zion Suky. Though I’m not sure why such an individual would be carrying such sensitive documents.
If what I’ve written above is correct, then there’s a certain beauty in what the FBI has done. They’ve handed the Israelis a fait accompli. They’ve given them one of the country’s top police commanders on a silver platter. If official Israel refuses, trying to remain loyal to Grimm, then the FBI will leak the fact that the State allowed a crooked cop to walk.
There remain many unanswered questions: Israeli reporters bruited the name of the national police commander, Yochanan Danino, as if he’s involved in the case too. So, is he implicated as well in some way? Or is he tainted “only” by the fact that his agency never knew such a senior commander was dirty and had to have the case handed to them on a silver platter?
Let’s return to Rep. Grimm: the Justice Department brought the second criminal charge in his case yesterday. They charged a Texas fundraiser and friend, Diana Durand, with creating fictitious straw donors in order to exceed donation limits, a federal offense. Today, Staten Island’s local paper reported that Durand had hired a defense lawyer with extremely close ties to Grimm. They’d served in the FBI together and the lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, donated $1,500 to the Congressman’s last campaign. One wonders who’s funding her defense and whether she getting help from external sources; or whether Kaplan is doing this as a favor to his old buddy:
Kaplan…declined to say…whether Grimm had anything to do with Ms. Durand becoming his client.
Durand should be careful that her lawyer doesn’t represent Grimm’s interests over her own.
Finally, I want to share a theory first offered to me by a friend who is a savvy, knowledgeable newspaper editor. I’ve developed it a bit and hopefully taken it in some new directions: of all the Sephardi wonder rabbis, Pinto is the only one who has established bases around the world, specifically in New York. Why is he the only one who’s set his sights on New York? Yes, there are many Jews in New York including many Israelis. But there is something even more important there: money.
Of course, there is money to be made for Rabbi Pinto from generous, successful donors. But what if (and this is speculation on our part at this point) forces in Israeli politics determined that in order to elect more friendly pro-Israel voices they could tap the network of miracle rabbis like Pinto for campaign donations? Keep in mind that the rabbi’s donors gave him $500,000 for his 2010 campaign. That’s an extraordinary sum deriving essentially from a single man. It makes Pinto a bundler supreme.
We know how critical Bibi Netanyahu has found having pro-Israel allies in Congress. During Obama’s presidency, he has regularly avoided the president where possible, and appealed over his head to the Congress, where he even addressed a joint session. Bibi would find it imperative to elect as many slavish pro-Israel ciphers like Grimm as possible. It’s like having insurance in the bank. Can I prove Bibi’s involvement in any way in this scheme? Of course not. He’s far too smart to have his fingerprints on this. But I’ve heard from an Israeli journalist that Sara Netanyahu is especially fond of Grimm. And what Sara wants, Sara gets. Is it possible that she recruited police officials and ministers to go to bat for Grimm? Again, this is speculation. But I’ve learned that regarding Israeli politics, the unlikely often turns out to be true.
Now, what if the pro-Israel caucus both in Israel and the GOP activates those donors for other candidates as well? The question I ask, which the FBI surely already knows the answer to, is this: has this strategem been used by other Republican candidates? To know this, we’d have to cross-check Grimm donors to those of other pro-Israel GOP candidates to see if there is overlap. If there is, then we have a pattern and something even more interesting than we have now.
marc b. says
so are we witnessing the tip of the iceberg of counter ops against the Israelis, who have been spying on and potentially blackmailing US pols for years? these ops plus NSA could add up to altering the balance of intelligence.
Here’s the answer to your question
Richard Silverstein says
@ J: this is GREAT, thanks!
marc b. says
J, see recent federal indictment of klansmen soliciting money from synagogues to produce an anti-muslim death ray as well.
as it’s a fair assumption that for every klan meeting, half the members in attendance are Confidential Informants or agents of the government, you have to wonder what this is all about.
This story captures many of the forms and rhythms of unofficial Israel/US interactions, the long limbs of each enterprise wrapped around the other, seeking power, extorting money, and interleaved with religious weirdness, porn, drugs, shady deals, political life and no doubt very marginal personalities. Can it get any uglier? Child porn, sex trafficking, murder, insanity, nukes?