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Popular rabbi sentenced to a year in prison

Yoshiyahu Pinto will pay NIS 1 million over bribery conviction, is expected to turn state’s evidence against senior cop

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

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto (R) seen in the Tel Aviv District Court,  May 3, 2015. (photo credit: Flash90)
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto (R) seen in the Tel Aviv District Court, May 3, 2015. (photo credit: Flash90)

The Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday sentenced a celebrity rabbi to a year in prison for his part in a bribery scandal involving a senior police officer who led the Israeli Police’s national anti-corruption unit.

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto was also ordered to pay a NIS 1 million ($260,000) fine. He will start serving out his jail term on June 28 to allow him time to appeal, although the judge noted that his chances of success were slim.

After pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain, Pinto was convicted last month of bribery, attempted bribery, and obstruction of justice.

Under the plea bargain, Pinto agreed to testify against Menashe Arviv, the former head of the police’s anti-corruption unit who is suspected of receiving benefits from businessmen associated with the rabbi.

In exchange, Pinto, a kabbalist with a sizable and influential international following, was guaranteed a light jail sentence plus fines.

Menashe Arviv announces his retirement from the Israel Police, February 9, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Menashe Arviv announces his retirement from the Israel Police, February 9, 2014 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The investigation into Pinto’s dealings grabbed headlines in Israel in January 2014 after his lawyers alleged to the State Attorney’s Office that Arviv had received inappropriate benefits. The lawyers offered the information in the hope of securing immunity from criminal charges for Pinto in an investigation against him over a charity fund and the alleged bribing of another policeman.

The scandal prompted Arviv to take an extended vacation, and then, the following month, to resign after 36 years of service in the police, although he proclaimed his innocence.

Since 2011, Pinto, 39, who heads several charity organizations and Torah study institutions in the coastal city of Ashdod and in the US, has been the subject of a number of ongoing investigations, both by Israeli police and the FBI.

The rabbi — whose followers include Jay Schottenstein, chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company, and Israeli real estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken — was suspected of embezzlement of funds from an organization he oversaw. According to FBI suspicions, he was also the target of a blackmail attempt.

In April 2014 federal prosecutors brought charges against Republican US congressman Michael Grimm for receiving large contributions from followers of Pinto.

Grimm has acknowledged receiving $250,000 to $300,000 in contributions from followers of the rabbi.

Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.

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