Pow­er­ful and Enig­matic, Rabbi Pinto and Wife May Still Sur­vive Scan­dal

Forward Magazine - - News - By Josh Nathan-kazis Contact Josh Nathan-kazis at nathankazis@ for­ward. com or fol­low him on Twit­ter@ josh­nathankazis.

had at­tempted to bribe an Is­raeli po­lice of­fi­cial.

The re­stric­tions on their move­ment will last two weeks. Though they have not been charged with any crime, they are barred from leav­ing the coun­try for an­other six months.

The stakes for Pinto and his char­i­ta­ble em­pire couldn’t be higher, both here and abroad. In Septem­ber, Pinto ap­peared to be at the peak of his pow­ers. He was a driv­ing force be­hind what amounted to a bailout of Is­raeli bil­lion­aire Nochi Dankner, owner of the Is­raeli daily news­pa­per Maariv, by Ar­gen­tinean bil­lion­aire Ed­uardo Elz­tain. Busi­ness ex­perts puz­zled over the deal, which they saw as a bad bet for the Ar­gen­tinean. But Pinto re­port­edly re­as­sured Elz­tain, promis­ing him that in­vestors in Is­raeli firms “would not be hurt, and will see their money back, even dou­bled and tripled.”

At the same time, the rabbi’s long-stand­ing prob­lems in the United States seemed to be re­solv­ing in his fa­vor. Ofer Bi­ton, a for­mer aide who Pinto al­lies ac­cused in The New York Times of bilk­ing the con­gre­ga­tion out of mil­lions, was ar­rested on im­mi­gra­tion charges. And Pinto him­self did not seem to be im­pli­cated in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Bi­ton’s al­legedly il­le­gal fundrais­ing from Pinto fol­low­ers for Staten Is­land Repub­li­can Rep Michael Grimm’s 2008 con­gres­sional cam­paign.

All, how­ever, was ap­par­ently not well. Ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli me­dia re­ports, Pinto al­legedly at­tempted to bribe the Is­raeli po­lice of­fi­cial over a sep­a­rate money laun­der­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion in which he was a tar­get.

Then, on Oc­to­ber 16, Chan­nel 10 TV’s in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter, Ra­viv Drucker, aired a story say­ing that the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led in­di­rectly to the house ar­rest of the Pin­tos had to do with, among other things, al­le­ga­tions that Deb­o­rah Rivka Pinto un­law­fully re­ceived $1.1 mil­lion from a char­ity run by Pinto’s peo­ple. The re­porter dis­played doc­u­ments, ap­par­ently lists of bank trans­fers, that show the money trans­ferred from banks in the United States to her bank ac­count in Is­rael. The TV re­port stated that Pinto and his wife were asked about this in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion and, ac­cord­ing to po­lice sources, did not deny re­ceiv­ing the money. Pinto’s lawyer said, in a state­ment, that there was no wrong­do­ing and that ev­ery­thing will be­come clear once the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is over.

This isn’t the first time that Deb­o­rah Rivka Pinto’s name has been linked to money laun­der­ing. Her fa­ther, Ar­gen­tinean Chief Rabbi Shlomo Ben Hamo, filed a law­suit in the sum­mer of 2011, ac­cus­ing his daugh­ter and Pinto of pres­sur­ing him into serv­ing as guar­an­tor of a Jerusalem apart­ment as part of a money laun­der­ing scheme.

Ben Hamo and Pinto reached a set­tle­ment in the case in Septem­ber 2011.

And, as I re­ported last year, Deb­o­rah Rivka Pinto’s name ap­pears on the pur­chase of an ex­pen­sive Man­hat­tan apart­ment with Ben Zion Suky, the rabbi’s pow­er­ful right-hand man, who had been in­volved in the porn in­dus­try.

Deb­o­rah Rivka Pinto’s fu­ture and that of her hus­band are un­clear. Nei­ther has been charged with any crime. But the two are barred from leav­ing Is­rael for six months — likely a hard­ship for a rabbi who trav­els reg­u­larly to fundraise at in­sti­tu­tions he heads around the world.

Still, Pinto has a broad and pow­er­ful base that goes far be­yond busi­ness­men like Dankner and Elzs­tain. The same day I vis­ited Pinto’s town­house, my ed­i­tor was vis­ited in the For­ward’s of­fice by a for­mer Is­raeli de­fense min­istry of­fi­cial who now runs a state mu­seum and ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion named for Yitzhak Rabin. That of­fi­cial had trav­eled all the way from Is­rael to vouch for Pinto in per­son, un­bid­den by us. At a dif­fer­ent time, Is­rael’s con­sul gen­eral in Bos­ton called my ed­i­tor at Pinto’s be­hest.

Among the Sephardic rank-and­file Pinto has ad­her­ents, too, both in the United States and in Is­rael. Men on the streets of the south­ern Is­raeli city of Ash­dod praise him. His photo hangs on the wall of a kosher falafel shop in Las Ve­gas.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of the rabbi. Or his wife.

Revered:

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

De­spite be­ing ac­cused in a bribery scan­dal, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto still has many de­vout fol­low­ers.

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