The attorneys representing Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, known as the “Rabbi to the Stars,” are arguing that their client is not personally responsible for the millions of dollars missing from his congregation, but is in fact the victim of an intricate embezzlement scheme.
Rabbi Pinto has garnered a large following in the United States after emigrating from Israel six years ago. His popular name became shrouded in scandal when it was disclosed Tuesday that financial keepers could not account for millions of dollars in charitable donations to the rabbi’s congregation.
Federal officials are now investigating two of the rabbi’s business acquaintances, whom lawyers say are the ring leaders in an intricate embezzlement scheme and have framed Rabbi Pinto.
Lawyers point to Ofer Biton, an Israeli aide to the rabbi, who allegedly pocketed the millions meant to go to charities.
The exact amount of money said to be missing has not been disclosed.
A second player in the case is Pinto’s high powered public relations agent Ronn Torossian, who allegedly plotted with Biton to create a smear campaign against Pinto, then was put on retainer to stop the negative information.
Biton and Torossian allegedly promised the security of damaging stories in exchange for the charity money.
Torossian recently contacted The New York Times to claim he was not aware he was being investigated.
“My client is definitely a victim,” attorney Arthur Aidala told the New York Daily News.
“The rabbi’s monies were stolen,” he added.
Aidala told the NY Daily News that Rabbi Pinto has turned all documents over to the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office and is cooperating fully with authorities.
Pinto, considered a Kabala scholar, has worked with former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and basketball star LeBron James, and has rubbed elbows with conservative commentator Glenn Beck.
While The New York Times and the New York Daily News offer a lawyers’ perspective that Pinto is a victim, The Jewish Daily Forward paints a different picture of the popular religious figure.
The Forward claims to have obtained documents citing a large amount of money spent by Pinto’s educational charity, Mosdot Shuva Israel. The Forward claims documents indicate that the charity spent thousands on jewelry and travel expenses.
This argument could lend support to claims of a blackmail scheme against Pinto, or the rabbi's alleged involvement in the embezzlement scheme.
According to USA Today, Pinto also holds massive sway in Israel. When he recently returned to his homeland in July, he was greeted in the seaside city of Ashdod by businessmen, professional soccer players, and pop diva Rita.
Israeli businessman Ilan Ben-Dov told USA Today that Pinto has “wisdom that is unlimited.”
Authorities continue to investigate the embezzlement case. No arrests have been made.