Friday, 12 October 2012

Israeli celebrity rabbi Arrested for bribing police officer

 Short version

Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a well-known Israeli rabbi, reportedly has been arrested and released on bail for allegedly attempting to bribe a high-ranking police officer.

NRG, the news site of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, reported that Pinto had been arrested in a sting operation, while delivering on Thursday approximately $25,000 to Efraim Bracha, a deputy police commissioner and himself a certified rabbi.

The report said that Pinto is suspected of trying to buy information about an unspecified police investigation into his own actions. He and his wife were released on bail late on Thursday, the news site reported. Pinto's lawyer is quoted as saying the rabbi had done “nothing wrong.”

A former aide to Pinto, Ofer Biton, was jailed last month in the U.S. over immigration violations. Federal officials have reportedly been scrutinizing Biton's fundraising activities for a U.S. congressman, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). Biton had a falling out with Pinto, whose supporters have accused Biton of embezzling funds from Pinto's organizations.

Long version

Rabbi in NY FBI probe under new scrutiny 

An influential rabbi whose followers sparked an FBI probe by claiming that they had funneled illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm is now himself under investigation in Israel.
Yoshiyahu Pinto, a mystical rabbi known for his ties to business and political leaders in Israel and the U.S., was questioned by Israeli police on Thursday about allegations that he tried to bribe a high-ranking police officer for access to a sensitive case file, a police spokesman said. Pinto's wife was also questioned, according to Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Pinto rose to prominence in New York earlier this year, when aides and members of his congregation claimed they had been pressured into making illegal campaign gifts to Grimm, a Staten Island Republican. During Grimm's 2010 race, Pinto followers contributed at least $250,000 to $300,000 to the campaign, much of it coming during the early months of his candidacy when he was a relative unknown.

The FBI has been investigating for several months. This summer, agents arrested the former Pinto aide who had served as Grimm's primary liaison to donors in the congregation. The Israeli businessman, Ofer Biton, was charged with immigration fraud.

No charges related to campaign fundraising have been filed in connection with that investigation, and Grimm has denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers didn't respond to a request for comment Friday about Pinto's legal troubles in Israel.

Biton has also denied any wrongdoing.

A Pinto spokesman New York declined to immediately comment on the Israeli bribery investigation. Pinto's attorney in New York, Arthur Aidala, didn't immediately return phone and email messages.

Grimm hasn't received substantial support from Pinto's followers this year during his ongoing re-election campaign against Democrat Mark Murphy.

—Copyright 2012 Associated Press

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