Federal agents arrested a Flushing rabbi on Monday who allegedly participated in a scheme to blackmail someone out of millions of dollars.
Rabbi Igal Haimoff, 67, along with Mark Weissman, 54, of Lawrence, Long Island, were arraigned on federal extortion charges in a Brooklyn courtroom on June 18. They were each released on $250,000 bond, but face up to five years behind bars if convicted.
In early 2017, according to U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard P. Donoghue, Haimoff and Weissman allegedly conspired to demand that an individual pay $6 million — and threatened to have an unidentified associate turn over incriminating evidence about the victim over to law enforcement if their request was not met.
Federal agents said that Weissman allegedly enlisted Haimoff’s help in funneling the extorted funds through a charity with which the rabbi is associated. They further drafted a fraudulent letter, written on the charity’s letterhead, to the individual, whom they believed would send them the funds from overseas.
The letter described the extorted funds as a “pledge” from the individual toward the completion of a yeshiva building in Queens. According to BukharianCommunity.com, a website focused on the Bukharian Jewish community, Haimoff founded the Yeshivat Olel Simcha in Kew Gardens Hills back in 2003.
Unbeknownst to Haimoff and Weissman, Donoghue said, their letter was actually sent to, and received by, an undercover FBI agent.
Later, the unidentified associate informed Haimoff that they were increasing their demand to $7 million. The victim in the scheme indicated that he could provide the funds, but Haimoff requested a letter explaining why the purported donation was being increased.
On or about June 6 of this year, authorities said, the undercover FBI agent emailed Haimoff claiming that he desired to increase the pledge after learning of “additional structural work required” for the completion of the yeshiva project. Haimoff replied to the email with gratitude for the increased pledge.
“As alleged, Haimoff and Weissman attempted to characterize the millions of dollars they expected to receive from their extortionate threat as a charitable donation,” Donoghue said. “This office, along with our law enforcement partners, will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who seek to hid their criminal conduct behind the cloak of a charity.”