“...an underground money transfer network that stretched from Brooklyn all the way to Israel.”
"Also arrested was a man charged with brokering the sale of a human kidney.”
Rabbi Fish “...would not use the word cash, but instead referred to laundered money as ‘gemoras,' a reference to part of the Talmud...”
Orthodox rabbi pleads guilty to using religious charities to hide $1M for Solomon Dwek
By Ted Sherman | The Star-Ledger (New Jersey) | April 9, 2011
Rabbi Mordchai Fish, left, admitted Friday that he let FBI informant Solomon Dwek, right, use his charities to channel $900,000 in illegal funds.
Of all those targeted in what became the biggest FBI sting operation in New Jersey history, Mordchai Fish was among the most secretive.
He changed cell phones constantly. He spoke in code, using Talmudic references to set up meetings to exchange cash. He constantly worried aloud about electronic bugs and had cash couriers all over Borough Park.
On Friday, the tearful, 58-year-old Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn pleaded guilty in federal court to a money laundering scheme that used religious charities to hide nearly $1 million in funds he thought had come out of a massive bank fraud and a counterfeit designer handbag operation.
Fish was one of 44 people initially charged in the widespread sting, which came to light in July 2009 with the arrests of three mayors, two legislators, five rabbis and dozens of public officials and candidates for office. Also arrested was a man charged with brokering the sale of a human kidney.
At the center of it all was failed Monmouth County developer Solomon Dwek, an informer who entered into a cooperation deal with federal prosecutors after he was arrested for trying to pass $50 million in bad checks at a bank drive-through window.
With the politicians, Dwek posed as a corrupt developer by the name of David Esenbach, who gave out FedEx envelopes stuffed with cash to anyone who would help expedite a series of phony real estate deals concocted by the FBI. More than a dozen have already pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Separately, using his own identity, Dwek arranged to launder millions of dollars in a series of tax scams using religious charities — a scheme in which money was given to charitable funds and religious schools, and then kicked back in cash, minus a 10 percent cut.
Dwek, in setting up Fish and others, repeatedly told them that he was looking to pull cash out of his bankrupt real estate empire and from a "schnookie" bank deal gone bad. Later, he claimed he had profits he was trying to hide coming out of a counterfeit, high-end designer handbag business.
Last week, another rabbi caught in the same sting, Saul Kassin, the 89-year-old spiritual leader of the nation’s largest Syrian Sephardic Jewish congregation, pleaded guilty to one count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
In court Friday (April 8) before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano in Trenton, Fish, who broke down repeatedly, pleaded guilty to an information charging him with money laundering conspiracy.
Fish admitted that he began meeting with Dwek in early 2008, and agreed to a series of transactions that were funneled through several community charities known as "gmachs," which Fish controlled.
Prosecutors said the checks were deposited into bank accounts held in the names of the charities, and Fish would subsequently arrange to make cash available through an underground money transfer network that stretched from Brooklyn all the way to Israel.
According to criminal complaints filed in the case, Fish was among the most furtive of those caught on surveillance video. He would constantly change cell phones and speak in an amalgam of English, Yiddish and Hebrew, to set up meetings.
The transcripts show he would not use the word cash, but instead referred to laundered money as "gemoras," a reference to part of the Talmud — the collection of Jewish law and tradition that explains the Five Books of Moses.
Among the transcripts included a recording of Fish and Dwek together in a car on their way to pick up cash in Brooklyn. As they drove, Dwek would mention the cross streets to which they were headed.
"I’m nervous now," Fish was heard on the surveillance tape. "Don’t even say the street in this car."
Dwek, who was wired for sound and video with a hidden miniature camera, assured Fish there was nothing to worry about. He had the car swept, he said.
"Swept, shmept," replied Fish.
He told the judge Friday he engaged in approximately 15 money laundering transactions with Dwek, helping convert approximately $900,000 in checks into more than $800,000 in cash, after receiving his cut.
Fish’s attorney, Michael Bachner of New York, said it was a difficult day for his client. "After due consideration with his family and loved ones, Rabbi Fish decided that it was proper and right to acknowledge his behavior," said Bachner. "He is looking forward to putting this matter behind him so that he can continue to engage himself in the work he has always dedicated himself to, which is the care of troubled youth in the community.”
Fish is scheduled to be sentenced July 28, when he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although under federal sentencing guidelines is likely to be exposed to anywhere between 33 months to as much as five years. In addition, Fish agreed to forfeit approximately $90,000.