The Jerusalem District Court on Monday approved a plea bargain with convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who was charged in February with swindling terminally ill people out of large sums by promising to heal them.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, Berland will serve no more than a few days in prison and pay his victims a total of 100,000 shekels ($30,775). In the wake of the approval, the victims’ families expressed anger on Monday over the terms of the deal.
Although the rabbi will be formally sentenced to 18 months in prison, he will only serve a few days in prison because the year that he has already served will be subtracted from the total sentence, and another third of his sentence will also be reduced.
Prosecutors told the court they had amended the indictment against Berland to reduce the number of counts detailed therein. The charges against him were reduced to fraud without aggravating circumstances and the value of the taxes he was accused of evading was also reduced. For the latter offense, Berland is expected to pay the state a penalty of 2.4 million shekels ($738,689).
Earlier this year, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected an earlier plea bargain that was negotiated in the case. That agreement had included compensation for the rabbi’s victims as well as a 14-month prison term, which Berland would not have actually served due to time already served and a reduction of a third of his sentence. Shortly afterward, the two sides went into mediation, which resulted in the current plea bargain over the last few days.
Berland, who is head of the Shuvu Banim yeshiva, had been charged with 16 counts of fraud and exploitation. According to the indictment, starting in 2014, Berland and his associates defrauded desperate people who had come to him for help. The indictment described 16 cases in which Berland portrayed himself as a miracle worker who, in exchange for huge payments, could cure terminal illnesses and revive the dead. He also claimed he could help people avoid prison and could find missing people.
In December, Haaretz revealed a recording of a high-ranking member of the Shuvu Banim Hasidic community saying that Berland had lied to his followers about his health in order to raise money from followers. In the recording, obtained by Haaretz, the acolyte, who is familiar with the state of Berland’s health, is heard saying in 2017 that the rabbi’s claim of a leg amputation as the reason for the fundraising campaign “never happened. It was advice to collect money, simple as that.”
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Berland himself was heard saying in another recording that the campaign was to “do business” and “make money.”
The fundraising campaign, launched in 2017, came shortly after he was released from prison after serving time for indecent acts and assault. As part of that plea bargain, in 2016, Berland was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He had fled Israel after the allegations against him were made public and was later arrested in South Africa and extradited to Israel. Berland was released after 10 months in prison, after being diagnosed with cancer.
Berland had claimed that his health has been poor ever since he was extradited to Israel in 2016, arriving in a wheelchair to hearings in that year. Contrary to Berland’s claims that he was in such pain that he could not stand, immediately after his release in 2017 he returned to his routine, and was filmed dancing at dozens of events throughout the country.