Supreme Court rejects kabbalist rabbi’s bribery appeal

Supreme Court rejects kabbalist rabbi’s bribery appeal

Yoshiyahu Pinto to report to prison next month over case that rocked police, saw suicide of top anti-corruption cop

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, in hat, leaves the Supreme Court in Jerusalem after appealing his sentence, November 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, in hat, leaves the Supreme Court in Jerusalem after appealing his sentence, November 16, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected an appeal by celebrity rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto on Tuesday against his one-year jail sentence for bribery, attempted bribery and obstruction of justice, in a case that embroiled senior officers within the Israel Police’s national anti-corruption unit.

The three-judge panel instructed Pinto to appear at the Nitzan prison in Ramle, or any other jail recommended by the Israel Prisons Service, at 10 a.m. on February 16 to coordinate when to begin serving his time.

In May, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced Pinto to a year’s prison sentence and an NIS 1 million ($260,000) fine after the rabbi – a kabbalist with a sizable and influential international following – pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain.

The case saw the suicide in July of police Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, days after an Israeli news website accused him of accepting bribes from Pinto. Hours after his death, the Justice Ministry cleared Bracha of any wrongdoing.

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.

Pinto’s lawyers alleged to the State Attorney’s Office that Arviv had accepted favors illegally and provided secret information in return. Arviv was last questioned by police in September. Charges have not been brought against him. The scandal prompted Arviv to take an extended vacation, and then, in February, to resign after 36 years of service in the police, though he maintained his innocence.

Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz, who authored the decision together with justices Zvi Zilbertal and Yitzhak Amit, wrote: “While Pinto does not have a public position, he is a figure with power and influence, well-known and admired by many, who sinned with bribery and caused others acting for him to sin.”

Pinto had tried to “corrupt a senior police officer for his own needs and for the needs of a Trojan horse at the heart of the law enforcement system,” Mazuz, a former attorney general, wrote. Pinto’s actions were “extremely serious,” he added.

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 have included 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.

Stuart Winer and Gabriel Fiske contributed to this report.

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