Followers of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto on Sunday welcomed the arrest of Ofer Biton, a former close aide to the rabbi in New York. The rabbi's supporters have long argued that Biton embezzled funds from his organizations and since then has been trying to blackmail the rabbi.
Followers of Pinto, an influential figure in Israel with a headquarters in Manhattan, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman, when he first ran for office in 2010, according to campaign records. Some donors have since said they broke rules to donate more cash to the Republican's campaign than allowed by law.
Biton, an Israeli businessman who has been living for several years in the United States, was arrested on Thursday by FBI agents on suspicion of violating immigration laws. Only some of the suspicions against him were disclosed. In a hearing on Friday before a federal judge in Brooklyn, an FBI representative said Biton lied in his declaration of personal wealth some two years ago, as part of a request to obtain a special immigration permit that the United States offers to foreign investors who have at least $500,000. Biton's lawyer declined comment. Authorities disputed Biton's explanation for $400,000 in his possession. He told immigration authorities that most of it came to him as a personal loan from a family friend.
The FBI claimed it had evidence, including bank records, proving that the funds actually came from a "partner in the plot" whose name is not mentioned in the complaint. The man transferred the funds via a third party to conceal its source.
AP reported on Saturday that Biton's arrest is part of an investigation into the 2010 campaign funding effort for Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman. The FBI is investigating the fundraising efforts and Biton's name surfaced then. The donations were collected from supporters of Rabbi Pinto, but some of them testified later that Biton used the rabbi's name, without his knowledge, to solicit donations for Grimm. The argument is that Biton and another person worked aggressively to raise the funds with the goal of receiving favors from the rabbi later on.
Pinto's adherents view Biton's arrest as proof of the rabbi's claims that his former aide embezzled the funds and that the rabbi had no knowledge whatsoever of these events. The rabbi's loyalists argued that the incident absolves the rabbi of a series of charges which they say originated with Biton. "The arrest of a Jew is not a happy day, but justice has been done here," said one. "The arrest ends two years of hell the rabbi has been through, with a media terror onslaught of hundreds of articles against him. Now it is clear that the rabbi was the victim."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now