Rabbi Yosef Yoshiyahu Pinto, the much heralded dean of “Shuvu Yisrael” Hasidic group, on Wednesday signed a plea bargain agreement admitting bribery, attempted bribery and disruption of a criminal investigation. He is expected to serve one year in prison.
As part of the plea deal, Rabbi Pinto has agreed to testify against former police Major General Menashe Arbiv, who is on leave pending an investigation of suspicion of receiving benefits from the rabbi.
Those benefits allegedly included help in obtaining a U.S. visa, a monthly stipend paid to Rabbi Pinto’s son, lodging in a luxurious suite in a Manhattan hotel, and a reduced price for an apartment the commander purchased in North Tel Aviv.
This was only the financial part of what has been reported to be a cose, friendly relationship between teacher and disciple, a relationship Rabbi Pinto has had with countless people of influence and wealth, both in Israel and in the U.S.
Israel’s Forbes richest rabbis list quotes Rabbi Pinto’s wealth at $21 million, give or take. According to press reports, Pinto is connected to the leaders of NY City’s real estate industry, including, most notably, executives in Metropolitan Real Estate Investors and Prudential Douglas Elliman. His devoted followers include Jay Schottenstein, chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company, real-estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken, 5W Public Relations owner Ronn Torossian, Congressman Michael Gerard Grimm (R, Staten Island), and even basketball player LeBron James of the Miami Heat.
There’s a lot more to the story, of course. Some of it involves the FBI. It started when extortionists demanded from rabbi Pinto a huge sum of money, or they threatened to leak medical reports about the postpartum depression his wife suffered after her most recent pregnancy. Later, after the embarrassing documents were published, she attempted suicide.
U.S. media sources insist the entire extortion scam was set up by Congressman Grimm, another devotee of Pinto, and a friend of Israel and Netanyahu in Congress. Grimm is now in a big vat of hot water of his own, as a fundraiser for his 2012 campaign was arrested there on Friday by the FBI on criminal charges that she invented “straw donors” to hide more than $10, 000 in illegal donations to Grimm. Should the fundraiser, Diana Durand, 47, of Houston, TX, strike a deal in exchange for testimony against her friend and employer, the Congressman, in turn, might be tempted to offer information about his guru, Pinto.
And, until his fortunes changed so radically, former Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Rabbi Pinto is a deal maker, an influence-peddler, admired by people with staggering amounts of money as “something between a guru and a Chasidic rebbe, ” and useful to all of them in more than just spiritual advice.
All of the above is not what one would normally expect from a rabbi, but Pinto is no ordinary rabbi. He’s a rabbi who knows many very wealthy people. But there have been cracks in that picture, through which we can see flashes of the good rabbi’s skirting the line between what’s legal and what’s suspect.
Earlier this year, Israel’s Attorney General was going to indict Rabbi Pinto for trying to pay off Sub-Commander Ephraim Bracha $200, 000, in return for information on police investigation of Pinto’s Hazon Yeshaya charity.
Bracha is Arviv’s predecessor at Lahav 433, a special police unit investigating white collar crime.
Bracha reported the offer to his superiors, prompting a separate investigation against Rabbi Pinto.