The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office announced Monday that a sex offender rabbi who has been accused of defrauding his sick and elderly followers out of millions of shekels will be indicted, pending a hearing, for a number of alleged fraud and tax offenses.
Eliezer Berland will be charged with tax evasion, violations of money laundering laws and other offenses for failing to report and even concealing income generated through his activities at his ultra-Orthodox Shuvu Bonim sect.
Berland allegedly carried out counseling, fundraising and teaching and also offered what were called life-saving benedictions — all for a fee that wasn’t declared to the authorities.
In addition, he is expected to be charged for paying employees millions of shekels without salary slips or paying tax as required.
The expected charges are in addition to a parallel case in which he was arrested for fraud after hundreds of people filed a police complaint against him for selling prayers and “wonder drugs” to desperate members of his community, and for promising 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 February he was arrested in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, along with his wife and other senior members of his sect, as his followers clashed with police nearby. Since then, the home of a former disciple who is now a witness against Berland has been vandalized multiple times.
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.
In February, a judge was rebuked for mocking Berland in comments for which she subsequently apologized. Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly had written in her February decision that Berland “cynically exploited” his alleged victims by, among other things, giving “Mentos (candy) to patients under the guise of medication.”
During 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.”
Berland was the subject of a several-year international manhunt before being arrested and jailed in Israel in 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault after being accused of sexually assaulting followers.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served, but was freed just five months later, in part due to ill health. After his release, he swiftly returned to lead the Shuvu Banim sect, where he commands a cult-like following.