Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Phony rabbi gets 18 years for $10 million tax fraud
Ex-Chicago man filed fake returns using stolen IDs to get refunds
A former Chicago man who posed as a rabbi has been sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for running a scheme that used the stolen identities of dead people and federal inmates to file for millions of dollars in phony refunds.
Prosecutors said Marvin Berkowitz directed a ring that fraudulently collected at least $3.7 million in tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service and an additional $6.5 million in refunds from 33 states.
Berkowitz, who fled to Israel after his indictment in 2003, was arrested in Jerusalem by Israeli authorities in 2009 and returned to the U.S. to face the charges. He pleaded guilty in January in federal court in Chicago to mail fraud and conspiracy charges and was sentenced late Friday to 18 years and 4 months in prison.
In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall noted the scheme's complexity, Berkowitz's 20-year history of tax fraud and his arrogance that he was above the law. Seven others, including two of Berkowitz's sons and a son-in-law, have also been convicted.
"It was a serious crime and it is a serious sentence," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Merin
Berkowitz is an Orthodox rabbi, despite what the Tribune reported.
His brother is reportedly Rabbi Zvi Berkowitz of Ner Israel, Baltimore, son-in-law of the number two man on Agudath Israel's Supreme Council of Torah Sages, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky.
His brother-in-law is Rabbi Don Well, once principal at Yeshivas Rambam in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Here' Rabbi Well's Awareness Center page.
Berkowitz was part of the Chicago Orthodox and haredi community and even taught at a day school there for a brief time.
Here is how Berkowitz's background is described in a 1989 court document related to an earlier conviction:
Berkowitz was born on March 4, 1947, in Munich, Germany. Shortly thereafter, he moved with his parents to San Francisco, where he spent his formative years and attended high school. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, Berkowitz attended the Ner Israel Rabbinical College located in Baltimore, where he studied but did not receive a degree.
In January 1971, he married his wife, Rena Berkowitz (nee Weil), in Chicago. He took a job at the Loop Synagogue in Chicago, where he worked for five years managing the synagogue's daily affairs. Berkowitz left his employment at the synagogue in 1976. Since then, he has been self-employed as a real estate and equipment leasing specialist. Mrs. Berkowitz is employed as a food service supervisor at a nursing home. The Berkowitzes have five children, whose ages range from six to sixteen.
Berkowitz faithfully practices the Orthodox Jewish religion.…
Note that Ner Israel doesn't issue "degrees" unless they are needed for employment purposes or for graduate school purposes, and that smicha is not officially equivalent to a degree when it comes to federal student aid money, which is what the above assessment is apparently based on.