Thursday, August 12, 2010
Prominent rabbi from Deal admits money laundering in N.J. corruption sting
DEAL — A Monmouth County rabbi arrested in last year’s massive FBI sting pleaded guilty today to laundering up to $1.5 million of what he believed were criminal proceeds.
Eliahu Ben Haim told a federal judge in Trenton he used his religious charity to launder checks for a government informant who claimed the money came from insurance scams, bank frauds and the sale of knock-off hand bags.
The 59-year-old rabbi was arrested in last year’s epic money-laundering and bribery sting that ensnared 46 people. They included five rabbis, three mayors, two assemblymen and one man accused of conspiring to sell a human kidney.
Ben Haim is the first rabbi to plead guilty in connection to the case. He faces roughly four and a half and seven years in prison under the terms of his deal with prosecutors.
Ben Haim grew up in Brooklyn and is the former head of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in the borough of Deal. His father, Baruch Ben Haim, was among the most prominent rabbis in New York City’s Syrian Jewish community.
Bearded and bespectacled, Ben Haim stood before U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano wearing a dark suit and yarmulke. He admitted meeting multiple times with Solomon Dwek, who began secretly recording conversations with the FBI after being charged in 2006 with a $50 million bank fraud.
Dwek, whose father is a rabbi, was laundering money through Ben Haim as early as June 2007, beginning with a $50,000 check he claimed came from an insurance scam in Florida. The rabbi said he charged 10 percent for each transaction and worked with a man in Israel who supplied him with money to cash checks.
“He washes money for people,” Ben Haim said, according to the complaint.
The rabbi deposited Dwek’s checks into the accounts of his charity organizations. Then, authorities say, the rabbi wired the money to his contact in Israel. He took 1.5 percent and wired the rest to accomplices in New York who delivered it to Ben Haim and Dwek, authorities said.
“You see the merry-go-round? This guy’s been doing it for 20, 30 years,” Ben Haim said, according to the complaint.
The judge scheduled Ben Haim's sentencing for Sept. 30. Maureen Nakly, an assistant U.S. attorney, agreed to allow Ben Haim to remain free on bail.