Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When A Mystical Rabbi's Charity Spends $77,000 On A 3-Week Hamptons Rental 

Today, the NY Times delved into the world of a mystical rabbi, his celebrity followers, high-power publicists, and, not least of all,
the rabbi's charity's missing millions as it reported on Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto: "The rabbi's close followers are disclosing what they say is the source of many of his troubles. They said they told federal investigators that the rabbi had been the victim of a bizarre embezzlement and extortion
plot that was carried out by two former members of his inner circle, who stole his congregation's money and tried to frame him."

Last year, the Forward described, "A rabbi in the Moroccan mold, Pinto is something between a guru and a Hasidic rebbe. A kabbalist interested in the esoteric elements of the Jewish tradition, he runs a number of yeshivas, religious schools, in Israel and the United States, and sponsors a social service organization that feeds needy families in Israel, mostly in Ashdod. He speaks Hebrew and no English, and his followers in the United States draw heavily from the expatriate Israeli community." Pinto has risen to fame as "Rabbi to Business Stars," even consulting with Lebron James and, allegedly, Anthony Weiner.

The Times reports, "The rabbi's followers and lawyers said they told federal investigators that a former aide to the rabbi, an Israeli named Ofer Biton, 39, had pocketed millions of dollars in donations that were intended for the rabbi's charity... Further, the rabbi's followers have also charged that Mr. Biton and Ronn Torossian, a public relations agent based in Manhattan, engaged in a scheme in which they leaked purportedly damaging information about the rabbi to reporters. Then, the followers said, Mr. Biton pushed to have Mr. Torossian put on retainer to help put an end to the bad publicity."  That's straight out of The Sweet Smell of Success!

Biton and Torrossian, an infamous figure on Gawker, deny any wrongdoing—Torossian calls Pinto a "crook"— but "federal investigators in New York City, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed [to the NY Times] that they were examining the roles of Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian in the disappearance of the money from the rabbi's congregation, but they would not provide details."  A former charity administrator claimed things got bad last year over real estate:

The rabbi's relations with Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian ruptured in March 2010. The rabbi had been staying temporarily in an apartment in the Essex House in Manhattan, a rental that Mr. Biton had helped to arrange, but the rabbi decided to stop renting it. One night, Mr. Biton and Mr. Torossian confronted the rabbi over the decision, according to Ms. Cohen, who said she was there at the time. Ms. Cohen said she heard Mr. Torossian demand $500,000 from the rabbi, as well as five months' rent for the Essex House apartment. Mr. Torossian threatened the rabbi with a spate of negative publicity if he did not agree, she said.

And when negative comments were made about Pinto on Wikipedia, investigations from Wiki looked at the IP addresses and other info about the commenter: "Given the CU result, below, it's possible that even if they're not all the same person they are all employees of Torossian." The Forward has some of the ridiculous expenses from Pinto's charity: $77,000 for three weeks rental of Hamptons home in 2008; $40,000 for two weeks at the same home in 2009; "75,000 bill for a month-long stay at a luxury hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a $65,000 ring; and $28,000 for fine men's clothing."


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