LOS ANGELES (JTA) — A Brooklyn rabbi was sentenced to two years in prison for a tax fraud and money-laundering scheme.
Rabbi Moshe Zigelman, who pleaded guilty Monday in a Los Angeles federal court, was a key figure in an alleged conspiracy in which he and others solicited millions of dollars benefiting five charities of the fervently Orthodox Spinka sect. Contributors were given receipts for large sums to use as charity write-offs on their tax returns while secretly getting back 80 percent to 95 percent of their donations.
In 2006, Zigelman helped solicit more than $8.5 million, of which $750,000 was kept by the Spinka charities, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported.
Zigelman, 61, served as an assistant, or gabbai, to Grand Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz, leader of the Chasidic sect, who will go on trial June 19 with four Los Angeles businessmen.
Israeli banker Joseph Roth was sentenced previously to 14 months after entering a guilty plea in the scam.
According to the indictment, the operation lasted from 1996 to 2007 and involved a network of Los Angeles businesses, donors and the Tel Aviv-based United Mizrahi Bank along with its Los Angeles branch.
At the sentencing, Zigelman again acknowledged his guilt, expressed remorse and asked for leniency, drawing a parallel to Kol Nidre and teshuvah, or atonement, the Jewish Journal reported.
U.S. District Judge John Walter noted that Zigelman was the No. 2 man in the scheme, adding, “It’s difficult to understand how such an individual could lose his moral compass.”
More than 50 Spinka adherents, including Zigelman’s wife and 10 of his 12 children, who had flown in from Brooklyn were present in the courtroom.
Spinka, a Chasidic group that originated in 19th century Romania, has adherents in Israel, Europe and Brooklyn.