The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced four people on Sunday to between nine months and four years imprisonment for stealing Jewish ritual and holy objects worth approximately $1 million from the Great Synagogue of Milan.

On February 1, the convicts stole various items from the synagogue, transported them to Paris and then brought them by plane to Israel. The stolen objects included rare crowns and ceremonial objects placed on Torah scrolls dating back to the 18th century.

Much of the hearing surrounded attempts by the mastermind of the theft, Meir Moalem, to convince the court to give him a light sentence.

Moalem and character witnesses, including his mother, described how he had had trouble supporting his family in Israel. They said that he had moved to Paris in order to try to better support the family.

Moalem said he had learned that he could buy people’s loyalty and could get people to work with him on any job, even if illegal, if he paid them enough. Moalem had paid various members of the team up to $70,000 to assist him in aspects of the theft.

Requesting a lenient punishment, he noted that he has turned over a new leaf since his arrest for this crime. He also noted that all of the items were returned to the Italian synagogue. Moalem also said he did not realize the extent of the value of the objects which he had stolen and was just trying to pay off his and his family’s debts.

The state sought a maximum punishment of five years in prison, arguing that the stolen objects had tremendous economic and historical value. According to the state, a clear message needed to be sent that such theft was even worse than run-of-the-mill crime and would carry a more severe punishment.

The prosecutors also did not believe Moalem’s story about not knowing the value of the objects, noting his intricate plans for the theft, hiring a team of assistants and the amount he paid his accomplices for their involvement.

In handing Moalem a four-year sentence, the court mostly accepted the state’s argument, finding that since Moalem found a purchaser for $285,000, he at least knew that the stolen objects were of high value.

The court also noted the significant negative impact that Moalem’s actions had on a treasured Italian Jewish community which has existed for centuries.

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