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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s family in the arms business?

An article published in the L.A. Weekly this week attempts to link the family of prominent Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach with a fraudulent arms dealership in Miami Beach. But a closer read of the story raises questions about the legitimacy of its claims and hints at a possible smear campaign aimed at one of the country’s most important Jewish voices.

The L.A. Weekly alleges that Boteach’s father, Yoav Botach, a wealthy real estate owner and Boteach’s brother, Bar-Kochba Botach, a law-enforcement supplier, are really high-level arms merchants who may be in cahoots with a felonious outfit in Miami Beach. Through a confusing web of allegations, the Weekly connects Bar-Kochba’s L.A.-based law enforcement supply company, Botach Tactical, with the now defunct arms dealership AEY Inc. of Miami Beach run by Yoav Botach’s grandson, Efraim Diveroli, who was convicted of conspiracy in 2008.

Diveroli was 21 when he was convicted of defrauding the U.S. government for peddling decomposing ammunition as part of a $300 million contract to arm the Afghan government. In order to duck a U.S. embargo on arms from the Chinese military, Diveroli hired a third party to repackage millions of unusable bullets he had purchased—cheaply—from China. According to the L.A. Weekly, Diveroli is currently awaiting sentencing in a U.S. District Court in Miami.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was the subject of a Jewish Journal profile last June (and which included a column about Shabbat dinner at his brother, Bar-Kochba’s house) responded to the allegations:

“While this is not about me, I will of course defend my father and brother, two highly respected and philanthropic businessmen, against a silly and factually absurd story that was, according to both LA Weekly and the Jewish Journal, sourced by the party who sued my father for palimony and had the large amount of money sought rejected in court.”

Indeed, the allegations connecting Botach’s business with Diveroli’s fraudulent one hinges on some dubious evidence, as well as the single-sourced testimony provided by Yoav Botach’s estranged ex-wife, Judith Boteach (the family name is Botach though several family members, including Shmuley, have changed the spelling for practical reasons). According to Judith Boteach, a 2004 federal contract granted to Botach Tactical uses Diveroli’s now defunct AEY address in Miami Beach. Another connection cited in the article reflects information found on the Web site, a portal for companies interested in government contracts, that lists Botach Tactical’s mailing address at the same Miami Beach location.

Beyond a link between addresses, the story elucidates only one other connection between Botach and Diveroli: Apparently, Diveroli spent his teenage summers interning for his uncle Bar-Kochba, and, according to an expose of Diveroli in Details Magazine, “It was there, equipping police departments, that Diveroli learned how to bid on government contracts.”

Oddly, the story also implicates Congressman Henry Waxman for his alleged “silence” on the issue, when, according to Weekly author Penn Bullock, Waxman promised to conduct an investigation into the munitions fraud and any connection to the Botach family.

Bullock writes that Waxman’s 2008 inquiry “aimed to answer a fundamental question: How did Botach’s inexperienced 21-year-old grandson Efraim Diveroli ‘get a sensitive, $300 million contract to supply ammunition to Afghan forces?’”

Congressman Waxman issued a statement explaining: “When I was Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee we began an investigation into the procurement process at the Department of Defense that allowed AEY to receive a $300 million contract to supply ammunition to Afghan forces. In June 2008 we held a hearing on the issue in the hope that we could learn what went wrong so that we could rebuild our procurement system and protect the interests of taxpayers.”

Waxman did not allude to the outcome of that investigation, except to say that shortly thereafter he was elected Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while the investigation remained with the House Oversight Committee.

But the real heart of this story is a common refrain: the damage that ensues in the aftermath of a breakup. In this case, Judith Boteach is accusing her ex of financial malfeasance and alleges that Yoav Botach wired money to Israel to avoid paying her.

She also claims he was influential with L.A. city and state officials. “There were special lunches, dinners and fund-raisers,” she told the L.A. Weekly. Those special events apparently included Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s “Turn Friday Night into Family Night” initiative which was launched last year in Beverly Hills, and the paper reported that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti were in attendance. (For the record, Garcetti was a student of Rabbi Shmuley’s at Oxford, where Boteach ran a prominent speakers bureau as part of his work for Chabad, but Garcetti said he was not at the event that night. Rabbi Boteach added: Eric Garcetti, one of the most honest, sincere, and devoted figures in American political life was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford where I served as Rabbi for 11 years and where we became close. He has kindly joined many other international figures to help me create a global family dinner night.”)

For what it’s worth, Judith Boteach and Yoav Botach were never legally married—though Boteach claims she was unaware of this. In August 2009, according to L.A. Weekly, Boteach was awarded $250,000 plus legal costs in an L.A. Superior Court for “claims of assault, battery, emotional distress and unpaid work” but her palimony suit was rejected.

“Relationship breakups are always painful but disparaging one another in the press, while perhaps affording immediate comfort, is, in the long run, never conducive to healing,” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach said in a statement. “My father has been a successful real estate investor for 40 years and the suggestion he is an arms dealer is pure defamation and libel. My brother’s business sells law-enforcement, military, and public safety supplies to the police, army, and those who keep our country safe. He is a cherished friend of US law enforcement.”

Questions remain as to whether the allegations are true or if they are part of a broader smear campaign waged by an angry ex-partner and her audacious lawyer, Robert W. Hirsh.

Boteach would rather see this story buried, where he thinks it belongs: “How unfortunate that journalists simply reprint untruths without even checking the facts.”

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