NEW YORK, Feb. 21 (JTA) For years, the phone calls would come from people identifying themselves as advertising sellers for the Jewish World News. They would take orders, at exorbitant rates, for a newspaper that essentially didn’t exist.
For years Robert Cohn, editor in chief of The St. Louis Jewish Light, would console fellow editors of legitimate American Jewish weekly newspapers whose readers and advertisers were being defrauded.
“Don’t be discouraged,” he would say. “One of these days we’ll get justice.”
That day came this month.
More than a decade after the latest and largest Jewish newspaper scam began, its architect received a five-year prison sentence for fraud in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill, a St. Louis suburb.
Scott Rose, 37, who had previous convictions for burglary and selling marijuana, also was ordered to pay up to $2.5 million in reparations, the amount the government said he bilked advertisers.
“I feel very much like we landed the great white shark,” said Cohn, who said he was “intimately” involved in the government’s prosecution of Rose and his associates. The verdict was “far beyond my wildest dreams.”
Cohn, chairman of the American Jewish Press Association’s committee on ethics and professional standards, says representatives of the Jewish World News, using Jewish-sounding names, would call prospective advertisers and offer ad space in the paper, which printed only a small number of copies, distributed mainly to the ad buyers. Its ads and news stories were photocopied from other Jewish publications.
“It was embarrassing. It gave the whole Jewish press a black eye,” Cohn said.
The ad sellers would often vaguely identify themselves as working for “the Jewish paper in town” and solicit ads for an upcoming, unnamed holiday. Often, Cohn said, they would imply that anyone declining to buy an ad was anti-Semitic.
The tactics are “false, misleading, coercive and now it’s been confirmed that they were illegal,” he said.
Such scams for some 60 years have operated, or are still running, in Florida, New Jersey, California and Brooklyn. The one based near St. Louis “was one of the largest,” Cohn said.
Rose solicited ads not only in the bi-state Greater St. Louis area in both Illinois and Missouri, but also all across the nation between 1991 and February 2000.
An estimated 5,000 clients fell victims to the fraud, having been bilked out of more than $2.5 million.
Rose, a former school board member from Fairview Heights, Ill., a St. Louis suburb, pleaded guilty of mail fraud in August. He said his mother is Jewish, but his religious beliefs were not disclosed in court proceedings.
Rose was sentenced Feb. 6 by U.S. District Judge William Beatty in East St. Louis, who rejected Assistant U.S. Attorney Hal Goldsmith’s recommendations for a lesser sentence and gave Rose the maximum prison term for mail fraud.
“I have taken into consideration the government’s recommendation, but because of the magnitude, as I said earlier not just in terms of money but in terms of the number of victims, I feel that to do anything other than to sentence the defendant to the maximum term would be to completely ignore the seriousness of not only the amounts involved in this, but the time that it went on,” Beatty said.
Before his sentence was read, Rose said, “I have nobody to blame but myself. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I’m sorry.”
Victims of Rose’s scam have up to 20 years to collect restitution for funds they may have paid for advertisements in his publications. Persons with such claims can access the Web at usdoj.gov/usao/ils or call (618) 628-3700.
(The St. Louis Jewish Light contributed to this report)