Flushing rabbi charged in extortion scheme

A Flushing Rabbi and a Long Island man were arrested in connection with a $7 million extortion attempt that sought to disguise the funds as a charitable donation.
By Carlotta Mohamed

A Queens rabbi and a Long Island man were arrested and charged with engaging in a scheme to extort $7 million from an individual in exchange for not providing incriminating information to law enforcement authorities last month in Brooklyn federal court, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District said.

The defendants, Rabbi Igal Haimoff, 67, of Flushing, and Mark Weissman, 54, of Lawrence, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak June 18 and were each released on a $250,000 bond, federal prosecutors said.

“As alleged, Haimoff and Weissman attempted to characterize the millions of dollars they expected to receive from their extortionate threat as a charitable donation,” said U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. “This office, along with our law enforcement partners, will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who seek to hide their criminal conduct behind the cloak of a charity.”

Haimoff and Weissman played roles in helping a third defendant — Andrew Tepfer, (Person A), who was arrested and released on a $500,000 bond June 21 — coerce the victim into transferring funds in exchange to not tell law enforcement about the victim’s illegal activity, according to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorney’s office.

If convicted, Haimoff and Weissman each face up to five years in prison.

In or about 2010, the victim pleaded guilty in a federal criminal case pending in the Eastern District of New York, to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the complaint. In February 2015, the victim was ordered to pay $12.7 million restitution to victims of the fraud charged in the case, according to the complaint.

The three defendants thought the victim had money from the fraud case and sought to accuse the victim of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him.

Weissman enlisted Haimoff to allow his charity to receive the extorted funds as a way to disguise the purpose of the transaction, the court papers said. Haimoff and Weissman created and transmitted a fraudulent charitable donation letter to the individual they believed would be sending the extorted funds from overseas, accordng to the complaint.

The letter, on the charity’s letterhead from Haimoff, said: “Thank you so much for your pledge of $6,000,000 towards our building campaign. Your generous donation will enable us to complete the construction of our yeshiva building which is so vital for the continued growth of our Queens community. It is the generosity of donors such as yourself that provide us with the strength and ability to continue being there for the community. Thank you for being our partner in this most important endeavor. For your convenience, you can fire (sic) the funds to our bank account as follows [bank account details].”

Unbeknown to the men, they were actually communicating with an undercover FBI agent when transmitting the letter.

Haimoff later indicated that Tepfer (Person A) was increasing the demand to $7 million and the victim indicated that he could provide the funds, and Haimoff asked to be provided with a letter indicating why the “donation” was increasing to $7 million. On or about June 6, 2018, Haimoff and the undercover FBI agent, exchanged the following e-mails, which read in part:

Undercover FBI Agent: “Dear Rabbi Haimoff, I have learned that there is additional structural work required for the construction of the yeshiva building for the charity. As such I would like to increase my pledge from $6,000,000 to $7,000,000 to assist you with the project… Kind regards…”

Haimoff: “… Thank you very much… that you doing with our yeshiva because of your good heart open hart (sic) for mitzvahs we will be able to expand our bldg to the maximum capacity now we don’t have any more space for new kid’s (sic) to come after the construction will be done we will be able to double the amount of children!!…thank you so much. Rabbi haimoff.”

“Charity of all kinds, especially related to children, is esteemed to be noble, honest, and true,” said William F. Sweeney, FBI assistant director-in-charge. “By allegedly attempting to extort and blackmail this victim in the name of charity, Haimoff and Weissman gravely undermined these values. By the arrests of these individuals, it is clear that regardless of cunning cover-ups, all injustices will ultimately be revealed.”

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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