TRENTON, N.J. - The spiritual leader of the Syrian Jewish community in the United States was sentenced yesterday to two years of unsupervised probation for using a charity he controlled to illegally funnel money to Israel.
Dressed in a black suit and a traditional black hat, 89-year-old Rabbi Saul Kassin appeared frail and confused Tuesday, asking his lawyers to explain to him what was happening and accusing the FBI and the court of unfairly targeting him.
"You did all this to me under almighty God," Kassin said in a long statement before the judge imposed his sentence. "Aggravation, sorrow. Many nights I could not sleep."
U.S. District Judge Joel Pisano spared Kassin a prison sentence, citing his old age, but fined him $36,750, in addition to the nearly $370,000 Kassin agreed to forfeit after he was caught up in New Jersey's largest-ever corruption bust.
The chief rabbi of Congregation Sharee Zion in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kassin pleaded guilty in March to one count of unauthorized money transmitting. According to the criminal complaint, he had used the Magen Israel Society, a charity he controlled, to deposit thousands of dollars in checks from Solomon Dwek, the son of another New Jersey rabbi. Kassin then issued checks to other organizations at Dwek's behest, taking a 10 percent commission.
Dwek had become a cooperating witness for the FBI after pleading guilty to a $50 million bank fraud, wearing a wire as he presented the illegal deal to Kassin as part of a federal sting operation dubbed Operation Bid Rig.
Forty-six people were arrested in 2009 as part of the corruption and money-laundering investigation, including high-level elected officials, public workers, Kassin and four other Orthodox rabbis. The ongoing investigation became New Jersey's largest-ever corruption bust.
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