Prosecutors are reportedly dropping a softened plea deal for a sex offender rabbi who has been accused of defrauding his sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels, following complaints from his accusers.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, the change came after the alleged victims, who have said they’ll take the case to the High Court of Justice, pleaded with the deputy state prosecutor for a harsher punishment for Eliezer Berland.
The details of the negotiations on the plea bargain had not been confirmed by the authorities. The alleged victims’ lawyers said that to the best of their knowledge, it would include 14 months of imprisonment, compensation of NIS 5,000-10,000 ($1,500-$3,000) per victim and a fine to be paid to the state.
Berland was arrested for fraud in February 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. 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. He was charged in that case in March.
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.
In May, he was further charged with tax evasion, violations of money laundering laws and other offenses for failing to report and even concealing income generated through his activities with the Shuvu Bonim sect.