A San Diego U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw on Friday said Eric Levine must pay a serious penalty for breaking the law and betraying trust of the synagogue he was supposed to serve, and imposed on him an 18-month prison sentence, as recommended by the prosecution, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“There’s real pain that occurred, ” Judge Sabraw said. “That label ‘thief’: That will be the scarlet letter you’ll carry the rest of your days.”
In his guilty plea, Levine admitted to stealing as much as $400, 000, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Valerie Chu told the UTSD the real figure was more like $540, 000.
As the newspaper put it, it means that while Congregation Beth El had no money to heat the children’s Hebrew school classrooms, contribute to employee retirement funds, offer free meals to needy families, or to prevent the layoffs of two employees, Levine was padding his own pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars, paying for vacations, private school tuition for his two daughters, jewelry and personal trainer fees.
Former Beth El Executive Director Eric Levine, 37, ran the La Jolla Conservative congregation for six years. Emily Bartell, , the synagogue’s former programming and communications director, was laid off by him, supposedly because of budget shortfalls.
Levine “left me emotionally and financially bankrupt, ” t Bartell old the judge during the sentencing hearing. “I am collateral damage.”
In a letter to the judge, Rabbi Philip Graubart said Levine significantly undermined the temple’s ability to raise money.
Levine apologized in court: “‘I’m sorry’ is never going to be enough, ” he told the crowded courtroom, packed with the people he had robbed. “What I’ve done to the community I love and care about won’t be fixed in a long time, ” he said.
Levine was hired as the executive director of Beth El in 2007, overseeing a $2 million annual budget. Within months, he began to pay off his own credit card debt with synagogue money. He was very creative in transferring his personal expenses to the Beth El’s credit cards, creating false entries in the books, like the “Ritual Fund, ” “Rabbi Emeritus, ” “Purim Baskets, ” and “landscaping expense.”
All those special funds paid for Levine’s joy trips to Mexico and Hawaii, for fun and treats at the La Costa Resort Spa, for leather furniture and for visits to Costco.
Only after Levine had left his position in 2013, becoming the head of a synagogue in Washington, D.C., did the Beth El folks discover the thefts. Levine was then confronted by Beth El’s then-president, and responded: “I’ve been dreading this call, ” synagogue member Sonia Israel told the paper.
The congregation has so far recovered $162, 000, through charge reversals offered by its banks. Levine also paid back some of the money. Prosecutors are recommending he be ordered to pay $543, 000 in restitution, and the final amount will be determined in a hearing in October.
It may be difficult for Levine to pay up – he’s been working as a burger flipper at a Red Robin.