(JTA) — Rabbi Menachem Youlus, once dubbed the “Jewish Indiana Jones” for his remarkable tales of rescuing Holocaust-era Torah scrolls, was sentenced to more than four years in prison for fraud.
Youlus was sentenced on Thursday to 51 months by Judge Colleen McMahon of the U.S. District Court of Southern New York. He will surrender himself on Dec. 17.
Youlus had pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Feb. 2 to having defrauded more than 50 victims, misappropriating some of the donations and secretly depositing them into the bank account of his Wheaton, Md. store, called the Jewish Bookstore. Youlus also defrauded his charity, Save A Torah, Inc. and its donors of $862,000, according to prosecutors.
His dramatic accounts of rescuing Torahs turned out to be contradicted by historical evidence, witness accounts and records showing that he simply passed off used Torahs sold by local dealers who made no claims as to the scrolls’ provenance. The U.S. Attorney’s office said that during many of the years in which Youlus claimed to be personally rescuing Torahs overseas, the Baltimore resident had not even traveled internationally.
“This is extremely important because it sends a message that Holocaust deniers and Holocaust memory exploiters are not part of accepted society,” Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, told JTA. “There is very little if any difference between a Holocaust denier and someone like Youlus who exploits Holocaust memories in order to enrich himself.”