5 rabbis arrested in corruption scam

44 suspects arrested on charges ranging from money laundering to selling Israeli donors' kidneys.

Kassin corruption 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassin corruption 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Five rabbis, three New Jersey mayors and two state legislators were arrested Thursday by the FBI in a sting at the end of a two-year investigation into a huge corruption scandal spanning from New York to Israel, involving political bribes, extortion, money-laundering and even organ trafficking. The rabbis were charged with laundering tens of millions of dollars through charities in the US and Israel. Another Jewish suspect was accused of selling Israeli donors' kidneys for up to $160,000. More than 300 FBI and IRS agents arrested 44 suspects Thursday morning, capping a probe that initially focused on bank fraud within the Syrian Jewish community in Deal, New Jersey, but took on wider political implications. Television crews captured the drama, including the rounding up of the Orthodox rabbis accused of running a money-laundering network Officials moved in following a two-year investigation that led authorities to separate criminal enterprises, including charges against politicians who accepted cash for political favors. But authorities also charged several rabbis with laundering tens of millions of dollars through charities in the US, Switzerland and Israel. Among those arrested were Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano III, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith and state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt. Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, who is also an attorney, is charged with agreeing to accept an illegal $10,000 cash payment for his legal defense fund. In a separate complaint, several rabbis from Brooklyn and New Jersey were charged with money laundering. The rabbis include Saul Kassin, 87, of Shaarei Zion synagogue in Brooklyn, New York; Eliahu Ben-Haim, 58, rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal; Edmond Nahum, 56, of the Deal Synagogue; Mordechai Fish, 56, of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn; and Lavel Schwartz, 57, Fish's brother. They were charged with money laundering. Prosecutors also charged Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum, 58, of Brooklyn, for allegedly acquiring and trading human organs. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum convinced people to donate their kidneys for $10,000 and then sold them for up to $160,000. Authorities said the investigation stemmed from a bank fraud case involving a member of the Syrian Jewish community in Deal. But when the individual became a federal informant, posing as a shady real estate developer who offered cash in exchange for government contracts, the case took on wider, and politically scandalous, implications. In the case of Cammarano, the mayor of Hoboken, authorities said a cooperating witness offered $5,000 to the mayor's campaign in order to ensure his support on "some properties we're working on." Prosecutors said Cammaro responded by saying, "I'll be there." "For these defendants, corruption was a way of life," US Attorney Ralph Marra Jr. said at news conference on Thursday. "The fact that we arrested a number of rabbis this morning does not make this a religiously motivated investigation," said the FBI's Special Agent Weysan Dun. "It is not a politically motivated investigation. It is about crime, corruption, arrogance, and a shocking betrayal of public trust." Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey called the scale of corruption in this case "simply outrageous" and something that "cannot be tolerated." Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said he heard of the story but knew nothing about kidneys being sold by Israelis, according to the Associated Press. Worshipers were praying when agents stormed the Deal Synagogue in Long Branch, N.J., the Associated Press reported. "Everyone was looking at each other, like, 'What's going on here," one witness said. Four FBI agents escorted a rabbi from the synagogue into his office and blocked the doorway. Meanwhile, at the Deal Yeshiva, FBI and IRS agents removed several boxes from school. AP contributed to this report.