N.J. rabbi sentenced to 5 years in prison in scam

NEW YORK (JTA) – Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Haim, a prominent New Jersey spiritual leader, was sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering.

Ben Haim, 60, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., for laundering at least $1.5 million through a number of religious charities from October 2006 to July 2009. He pleaded guilty in June 2010.

The rabbi was among 45 people, including other religious leaders and politicians, arrested in a government sting operation in the summer of 2009 with the cooperation of Solomon Dwek, a developer who was involved in a $50 million bank fraud.

At his sentencing, Ben Haim pleaded for leniency.

“My emotion and desire to help someone overtook my better judgment,” said Ben Haim, the rabbi at Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal, a wealthy southern New Jersey town with a large Syrian Jewish community. “I would like to continue being a productive citizen in society and not a burden. Please grant me that.”

The five-year sentence was the longest term ever imposed in a federal corruption sting.

“You were operating as a community leader, a religious leader and a family man,” said Judge Joel Pisano said before handing down the sentence. “At the same time you were holding yourself out in a false light.”

Also sentenced Wednesday in the same court was Akiva Aryeh Weiss, who received five years probation for operating a cash house in the scheme. Weiss, who suffers from Asperger syndrome, will serve his sentence at a mental facility.

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