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US man sentenced for stealing $830,000 from charity for disabled Israeli kids

Stuart Nitzkin, ex-head of American Friends of the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled, sentenced to 3.5 years after using embezzled aid money for vacations, NBA tickets

Ido Shkuri, a wheelchair basketball player for Israel's national team, takes a free throw during the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, July 9, 2017. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Ido Shkuri, a wheelchair basketball player for Israel's national team, takes a free throw during the Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem, July 9, 2017. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

CHICAGO, Illinois — A suburban Chicago man was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison for stealing more than $831,000 from a charity for Israeli children with disabilities, spending the money instead on golf outings, luxury vacations and tickets to NBA games.

“This was just simple greed and it was your attempt to live a life that you couldn’t afford,” US District Judge Sara Ellis told 45-year-old Stuart Nitzkin as she sentenced him Thursday, about five months after the Deerfield man pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the case.

For five years starting in 2011, Nitzkin submitted bogus invoices and receipts to finance his expensive lifestyle while he worked as the executive director of American Friends of the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled.

He spent the money on family vacations to places such as Scotland, Puerto Rico and Las Vegas, but also on more mundane expenses such as health club dues and car repairs, he admitted in his plea agreement.

Nitzkin’s attorneys Adam and Barry Sheppard, who sought probation, wrote in a court memo before the hearing that Nitzkin had raised more than $11 million for the charity and that contributions surged with him at the helm.

But in asking for a lengthy prison sentence, Assistant US Attorney Sheri Mecklenburg pointed in her own memo to the harm Nitzken did by stealing from the charity.

“The money raised by the charity paid not just for sporting events for the children, but also for wheelchairs, therapeutic pools and other rehabilitative equipment,” Mecklenburg wrote. “(Nitzkin) repeatedly has said that he would ‘never hurt the kids,’ but that is exactly what he did.”

The Ramat Gan-based Israel Sports Center for the Disabled provides athletic instruction, rehabilitation and more to some 2,500 children, according to its website. Several of the center’s alumni have competed in Paralympic Games and other major sporting events.

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