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Rabbi sentenced to probation in money-laundering scheme

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Saul Kassin, a spiritual leader of the Syrian Jewish community in America, was sentenced to two years of probation for illegally sending money to Israel through a charity he operated.

Kassin’s sentencing Wednesday culminated a legal saga that dates back to the summer of 2009, when more than 46 individuals — including Kassin, the chief rabbi of Congregation Shaare Zion in Brooklyn; two rabbis from the Syrian Jewish enclave of Deal, N.J.; and a string of high-ranking elected officials and civil servants — were brought down in a federal sting.

Citing the rabbi’s age, U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano did not give jail time to Kassin, 89, though he fined him $36,750. The sum is in addition to the nearly $370,000 Kassin agreed to give up when he was nabbed in the sting, New Jersey’s largest-ever corruption bust.

When Kassin began to profess his innocence, Pisano reminded him that such a display could jeopardize his lenient sentence, The Associated Press reported. Kassin could have received 18 to 24 months in prison.

The AP reported that Kassin appeared frail and confused at the sentencing, requesting that his lawyers clarify the proceedings and lambasting the FBI and the court in a long statement he read aloud.

"You did all this to me under almighty God," Kassin said. "Aggravation, sorrow, many nights I could not sleep."

Kassin pleaded guilty in March to one count of unauthorized money transmitting.

According to the AP, he had used the Magen Israel Society, a charity he controlled, to deposit checks from Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent Deal rabbi. Kassin then issued checks to other organizations Dwek requested, taking a 10 percent commission.

Dwek cooperated with the FBI after pleading guilty to $50 million in bank fraud, wearing a wire as he presented the illegal deal to Kassin.

Though he had pleaded guilty and came clean about his role in the money laundering, Kassin tried to backtrack at his sentencing, even demanding that the $367,500 he forfeited be returned to him, the AP reported.

"I want that money back, to donate it," Kassin said. "They kept it for two years almost — it’s enough."

Pisano denied the request, telling the rabbi he ultimately bore responsibility for any economic woe that came his charity’s way.

About half of the individuals charged in connection with the sting — dubbed "Bid Rig" by federal authorities — ultimately pleaded guilty.

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