5 ultra-Orthodox men jailed for defrauding state in fake yeshiva student scam

Members of the Kehillat Hamatmidim community claimed NIS 24 million ($6.5 million) in financial support for hundreds of fictitious students

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Matityahu Hirschman from “Kehillat Hamatmidim” arrives at Jerusalem District Court to hear the verdict in a case against him, on January 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Matityahu Hirschman from “Kehillat Hamatmidim” arrives at Jerusalem District Court to hear the verdict in a case against him, on January 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday sentenced five ultra-Orthodox men to jail terms following their conviction for swindling millions of shekels from the Education Ministry by inflating the number of students learning at seminaries using forged identity papers and masses of impostors to fool school inspectors.

One of the defendants was sentenced to five years behind bars, four others were given sentences of between 16 months to four years, and another four defendants were give six months each, to be served as community service.

The defendants were also given fines of up to NIS 150,000 ($40,000) and the court ordered the eviction of public buildings belonging to the association which were involved in the scam, the Ynet website reported.

The senior figures in the Kehillat Hamatmidim community obtained some NIS 24 million ($6.5m) from the Education Ministry by providing authorities with details of hundreds of students it claimed were studying at its religious seminaries and learning institutes in their community — but were in fact forged details gleaned from Interior Ministry data leaked online in 2006 and apparently supplemented with photos of community members.

The defendants forged 1,650 identities and, in many cases, the same person’s photograph appeared on up to five different identity cards, before using the paperwork to apply for benefits for 25 different institutes.

According to prosecutors, the lists contained people who were not even learning in the seminaries or were members of ultra-Orthodox communities who refuse on principle to accept funding from the secular State of Israel. Others were found to be secular, the report said.

Whenever Education Ministry inspectors came round to review the various seminaries, the defendants bused in the impostors to fill bench spaces and make up the numbers in the institutes, prosecutors said.

The incident first came to light in 2010 and in May 2018 the defendants were convicted on hundreds of offences of fraudulently receiving goods under aggravated circumstances, forging documents and identity papers, and money laundering. Two of the defendants were also convicted of obstructing the course of justice and harassing witnesses.

Prosecutors said it was the biggest ever fraud case relating to state-funded financial support for yeshivas. During the trial, defense attorneys claimed that the defendants were members of a small, closed community and were required to listen to instructions from their rabbis without exercising their own discretion, Ynet reported.

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