Former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger will serve 42 months in prison for bribery and give up an apartment he owns under a plea bargain he has signed with the prosecution, officials said on Tuesday.
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Under the agreement he will admit to accepting 5 million shekels ($1.3 million) in bribes, down from 10 million in the original indictment, while other charges – including fraud, breach of trust, and money laundering – will be dropped.
Attorneys Tal Gabay and Yehuda Fried announced that “today, after lengthy negotiations we conducted with state prosecutors, former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger accepted our advice and signed a plea bargain. The charge sheet will be amended and Metzger will plead guilty to taking a smaller bribe, for which he will serve 42 months in prison.
They added that “although his acts were defined as bribery this is not a classic case, since anyone reading the details will see that his deeds consisted of taking fees for mediating between donors and non-profit groups. Without this mediation there would have been no donations. There was no malice on his part.”
Attorney Dan Vitman at the Jerusalem State Attorney’s office said that “state attorneys insisted that Metzger receive a lengthy sentence and a stiff fine due to the seriousness of the deeds attributed to someone in such a senior office, someone who should serve as a role model. Instead, he abused his office and senior position in order to accept money for his personal use.”
Metzger’s associates say he agreed to a plea bargain because he understood that his trial would likely end in conviction. The police enlisted a state’s witness in the case whose name cannot be published.
Metzger’s trial, which opened last March in Jerusalem District Court, focused on five issues, primarily bribes, which were delivered to him in most cases by his personal driver, Chaim Eisenstadt, who also got a cut.
The first charge dealt with conversions, in which Metzger was accused of accepting bribes from wealthy foreigners seeking to convert to Judaism.
Metzger was introduced to these people by Rabbi Gabriel Cohen, a rabbi in Los Angeles, who would take money from the tycoons and give half to Metzger as a bribe.
The second charge dealt with nonprofits that Metzger helped with fundraising. Metzger would get a cut of as much as half of the funds he raised, without the donors being informed.
The third charge involved the systematic receipt of benefits in exchange for blessings and attending conferences, with payments ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 dollars.
The indictment also accused Metzger of stealing money he’d raised for a yeshiva operating in the Tel Aviv synagogue in which he served as rabbi. He was also charged with tax violations and money laundering because he hid his earnings from the authorities by taking payments in cash.