Rabbi in Australia charged with fraud


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — An American-born rabbi and his wife living in South Australia were charged in an alleged funding scam for their school.

Rabbi Yossi Engel and his wife, Chana, were charged Monday with 39 counts of dishonestly dealing with documents in connection with the Spirit of David Adelaide Hebrew School they reportedly founded in Adelaide, the Australian Jewish News reported Tuesday.

The Engels allegedly signed fake report cards to justify applications for funding for phantom Hebrew classes.

They are scheduled to appear July 30 in the Magistrates’ Court in Adelaide and expected to plead not guilty, the newspaper reported.

The couple allegedly signed fake report cards between 2001 and 2004 for Jewish students who were registered at other schools in order to prove that the apparent Hebrew classes warranted funds from the Ethnic Schools Board of South Australia.

The Spirit of David Adelaide Hebrew School, which Rabbi Engel claimed was an after-hours institution, was deregistered in 2007, but is believed to have received some $40,000 in funding, according to the Ethnic Schools Board.

The Criminal Investigation Branch of the Adelaide Police reportedly interviewed more than 50 people about the alleged scam.

Rabbi Engel, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y.,  was sent as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to the Jewish community in Adelaide, which numbers less than 1,000, in 1998. But a rift between Engel and the board of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation, the city’s only Orthodox synagogue, resulted in the board deciding not to renew his tenure at the end of 2006, sparking a bitter legal battle.

In 2007 a District Court judge found in favor of the board and upheld its termination of Rabbi Engel’s contract.

Lubavitch.com, the organization’s official Web site, still listed Rabbi Engel as director of Chabad of South Australia as of Tuesday morning, but on Wednesday officials from the Web site contacted JTA to say they removed his name from the site.

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