Home of witness who testified against Eliezer Berland vandalized
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Home of witness who testified against Eliezer Berland vandalized

Police arrest suspect in attack on house as sex offender rabbi faces allegations of mass fraud by promising miracle cures to terminally ill patients

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The home of a man who testified against Rabbi Eliezer Berland in a fraud case was vandalized this week, with masked suspects breaking windows and security cameras.

One suspect was arrested Thursday and was remanded in custody on Friday. Police said suspects used batons Tuesday night to damage the witness’s property.

On Thursday the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extended for a second time the detention of Berland, a convicted sex offender who has been arrested anew for allegedly defrauding terminally ill patients of millions of shekels by promising miracle cures. The 82-year-old was remanded for a further five days.

Judge Elazar Bialin said that “as had been established in the previous hearing, there was cause for detention as the suspect may attempt to flee justice” and there was also a risk of “substantial obstruction of the investigation” should he be freed.

Bialin replaced Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly for the hearing after Supreme Court President Esther Hayut ordered an inquiry into Lary-Bavly’s conduct during the previous hearing, when she mocked Berland.

During those deliberations, Berland’s attorney Amit Hadad raised the issue of his client’s poor health as a reason to not keep him in custody.

Lary-Bavly shot back, “Give him a Mentos [mint candy]” Lary-Bavly wrote in her decision that Berland had “cynically exploited” his alleged victims by, among other things, allegedly giving “Mentos to patients under the guise of medication.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Hadad again raised the issue of Berland’s poor health. “We are talking about an 82-year-old man who has previously suffered from cancer… and whose situation is deteriorating,” Hadad claimed.

Berland was arrested for fraud after hundreds of people complained to police that he had sold prayers and “wonder drugs” to desperate members of his community, and promised families of individuals with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk and families of convicted felons that their loved ones would be freed from prison.

He was arrested in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood along with his wife and other senior members of his ultra-Orthodox Shuvu Bonim sect as his followers clashed with police nearby.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland shrouds himself with his talit (prayer shawl) at the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, as he is put on trial for sexual assault charges, November 17, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

In the arrest raid, dozens of boxes of powders and pills were found at Berland’s home that were given to supplicants as “wonder drugs.” Initial laboratory checks revealed them to be over-the-counter pain medication and candy, including Mentos, officials said.

Berland has denied the charges, saying he only offered blessings and healing services when asked, and at sums far lower than those alleged by police.

Berland commands a cult-like following among the thousands of members of his group, an offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect. He fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers.

After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to ill health.

Since then, he has resumed his activities as the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community.

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