The Spinka money trail -- and the informant who brought them down
Amy Klein, Jewish Journal
... on Dec. 19, 2007, the U.S. Attorney General's Office filed an indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California naming the Chasidic yeshiva and four other Spinka organizations, as well as eight people, in a multimillion dollar tax fraud and money-laundering ring that stretched from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to Israel and elsewhere.
Two of those indicted are Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, 59, the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, a Brooklyn-based Chasidic sect, whose yeshiva is in this undistinguished building, and his gabbai (assistant), Moshe Zigelman, 60.
Weisz is just one of a number of Grand Rebbes of Spinka, a Chasidic sect that originated in Romania in the 19th century. He is the great-great-grandson of the founding rabbi, and one of about a dozen Grand Spinka Rebbes who live in Boro Park or Williamsburg, in Brooklyn, or Bnei Brak and Jerusalem in Israel.
Four Los Angeles men were among those charged with taking part in the scheme: Yaacov (Yankel) Zeivald, 43, a self-described scribe (sofer) from Valley Village (photo, right); Yosef Nachum Naiman, 55, the owner of Shatz Et Naiman, d.b.a. Jerusalem Tours; Alan Jay Friedman, 43, a businessman from Pico-Robertson who sits on the board of the Orthodox Union; and Moshe Lazar, 60, owner of Lazar Diamonds, a Los Angeles jewelry company.
Although many of the details of the case have not yet been revealed -- a trial date is set for Feb. 12, but the defendants' lawyers say it will be postponed at least a year -- what is emerging from the indictment, the search warrant and other documents of public record is a complex money-laundering scheme. According to the documents, people donated money to the Spinka institutions but then received 80 percent to 95 percent of their donations back, yet wrote off the full amount on their taxes.
These charges are just the beginning of a much larger case, Daniel J. O'Brien, an assistant U.S. attorney in the major frauds section, based in Los Angeles, said in an interview with The Journal.
"There were many other people that contributed in this fashion that would be the subject of government investigations," O'Brien said.
While O'Brien said he has documentation that the Spinka institutions took in about $750,000 through the scheme -- then writing receipts for $8.7 million -- in 2007 alone, the assistant U.S. attorney believes the fraud has been going on for decades: "I believe this goes on beyond living memory," possibly for generations.
This is certainly not the first time an ultra-Orthodox sect has been accused of attempting to break the laws of the secular government -- aramos, or schemes, were perpetrated over the centuries in the shtetls of Europe. In the last decade, arrests have occurred in religious communities in Brooklyn, Lakewood, N.J., and upstate New York.
However, this particular case has shocked Los Angeles' ultra-Orthodox community, not only because Los Angeles had largely been exempt from such cases in the past, but also because some of the city's prominent members have been charged as being at the center of the scheme.
As a result, the case has sparked a fierce debate about the type of behavior that is acceptable for observant people and what type of religious community Los Angeles would like to be. But there's also debate about the laws of a moser, an informant, because one person who was not charged was the primary source of information for the federal case -- though he allegedly started out as one of the perpetrators ...
A reader who sent in this article comments:
A quite interesting follow-up article; note the lack of moral outrage over the -alleged- crime, the main problem being the debate over the moser.
"the fraud has been going on for decades: "I believe this goes on beyond living memory," possibly for generations."
"aramos, or schemes, were perpetrated over the centuries in the shtetls of Europe."
The writer conveniently omits the fact this kind of behaviour could lead to the irrational mental disease affecting Christian victims of those swindlers, known as anti-semitism.