Rabbi hailed as hero after Poway synagogue shooting sentenced to jail for fraud

The head of a California synagogue, hailed as a hero after a deadly anti-Semitic attack on his congregation in 2019, was sentenced to jail on Tuesday for financial fraud.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, head of the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in southern California, has been sentenced to 14 months in prison for a series of financial crimes, the Southern California District Attorney’s Office said.

The sentence was a surprise. Prosecutors had recommended that Goldstein be sentenced to probation as part of a plea deal, noting his cooperation with investigators and his response to the shooting that killed worshiper Lori Gilbert-Kaye.

“His role after the 2019 terrorist attack was exemplary,” US Attorney Robert Brewer said when Goldstein pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud charges. “He has become a strong advocate for peace and the elimination of violence based on religious hatred.

The gunman, John T. Earnest, killed Gilbert-Kaye in the attack on the last day of Passover and blew Goldstein’s right index finger and injured his other hand. Three other worshipers were injured, including an 8-year-old girl.

Goldstein, 60, entered national limelight after the attack as an advocate for tolerance and resilience. Former US President Donald Trump welcomed Goldstein to the White House shortly after the shooting, calling him “a warm and amazing man.”

Former US Vice President Mike Pence visited Goldstein at the Poway synagogue, and Goldstein addressed the United Nations General Assembly to denounce anti-Semitism and other forms of racism after the attack .

U.S. President Donald Trump watches Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, a synagogue shooting survivor in Poway, Calif., Speak during a national day of prayer in the White House Rose Garden on May 2, 2019 (AP) / Evan Vucci)

The announcement of the prison sentence United States District Judge Cynthia Bashant said on Tuesday, “You’ve trained so many worshipers. “

“A lot of these individuals thought they were committing these crimes for the benefit of Chabad or the synagogue in general, when in fact it was for your benefit. I just can’t ignore this,” Bashant said.

“I think the time in detention is important. It’s important to send a message to the community, and it’s important to send a message to yourself, ”she said.

Goldstein is also due to pay $ 2.8 million in restitution. His sentence begins on February 23.

Goldstein defrauded the IRS, several San Diego Fortune 500 companies, and several public and private agencies, the court said.

“I stand here today with my head bowed in shame, remorse and disappointment at the crimes I have committed against God and mankind,” Goldstein told court on Tuesday, according to NBC San Diego.

Goldstein pleaded guilty to multi-million dollar fraud charges in 2020. His conviction has been delayed from last year due to the pandemic. He faced a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Goldstein admitted years of financial malfeasance that began long before the shooting.

In his plea agreement, he said his crimes began in 2010, but prosecutors said they dated back to the 1980s. The IRS and FBI executed search warrants at Goldstein’s home six months before the shooting.

In the most serious of several schemes, Goldstein collected $ 6.2 million in fraudulent donations for the congregation and affiliated charities, then secretly returned 90% to donors with fake receipts. Donors then used the bogus receipts to claim huge tax deductions. Goldstein kept the remaining 10% for himself for a profit of $ 620,000.

Separately, he submitted false invoices to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to claim $ 185,000. The bills called for government grants to repair the synagogue from damage caused by the forest fires that did not actually happen.

He also defrauded three Fortune 500 companies of at least $ 144,000 by tricking them to match bogus charitable donations and then pocket the contributions.

Finally, he helped his brother hide $ 700,000 in income from the IRS with the help of Chabad bank accounts for a reduction in his brother’s income.

At least 20 other people were involved in the fraud. The co-conspirator Alexander Avergoon was sentenced to 64 months in prison Monday for crimes committed with Goldstein and other misdemeanors.

Prosecutors said the synagogue was also victim of the fraud by losing donations.

The synagogue received federal funding to bolster its security shortly before the shooting, but did not have time to use the funds.

A photo of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at the Chabad of Poway, Calif., May 3, 2019 (Gabrielle Birkner / JTA)

Goldstein founded the Chabad of Poway Synagogue near San Diego in 1986.

After the allegations came to light, the Chabad-Lubavitcher organization condemned his crimes as “terribly shocking and disturbing”, relieved Goldstein of his role at the synagogue and fired him as a representative of the organization.

Chabad de Poway said after learning of the allegations, “Rabbi Goldstein broke the law, contradicted what our synagogue stands for, and broke the moral and ethical rules of the Torah that he taught.”

Goldstein’s son took over as head of the congregation after his father resigned.

Earnest, the white supremacist who carried out the shooting, was sentenced to life in federal prison last month. Three months earlier, he had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a state court.

Immediately after the shooting, Earnest called 911 to report the attack and said, “I am defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people.

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