MARYLAND FOUNDER OF “SAVE A TORAH” CHARITY PLEADS GUILTY IN MANHATTAN FEDERAL COURT TO DEFRAUDING THE CHARITY AND ITS DONORS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday February 2, 2012
Defendant Fabricated Stories of “Rescuing” Torahs Lost or Stolen During the Holocaust
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MENACHEM YOULUS – who billed himself as the “Jewish Indiana Jones” and claimed to have rescued Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust in Europe – pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to defrauding the charity he founded, “Save a Torah,” and its donors out of $862,000. YOULUS fabricated detailed accounts of having personally found Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust, at sites including Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, in order to solicit charitable contributions, some of which he then diverted into his personal bank accounts for his own self-enrichment.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Menachem Youlus concocted an elaborate tale of dramatic Torah rescues undertaken by a latter day movie hero that exploited the profound emotions attached to one of the most painful chapters in world history – the Holocaust – in order to make a profit. Today’s guilty plea is a fitting conclusion to his story and he will now be punished for his brazen fraud.”
According to the Information, the Complaint, other documents filed in the case, and statements made in court:
YOULUS co-founded the Save a Torah charity in 2004 with the stated mission of rescuing Torah scrolls that had been lost or stolen during the Holocaust, or in connection with the persecution of Jewish communities in other locations around the world. He claimed to have personally carried out his search and rescue missions for lost Torahs. Save a Torah then donated or sold the purportedly rescued Torahs to Jewish communities, synagogues, and individuals in the United States and elsewhere, and touted YOULUS’s accounts of daring Torah rescues to raise over $1.2 million in contributions between 2004 and 2010.
The investigation revealed that YOULUS’s accounts were contradicted by historical evidence, witness accounts, and records showing that he simply passed off used Torahs sold by local dealers who made no claims as to the Torahs’ provenance. Furthermore, records showed that YOULUS never left the United States during many of the same years in which he claimed to have been locating and rescuing Torahs from abroad.
YOULUS’s false accounts included his claim that he had located a Torah in Auschwitz, Poland, inside a metal box that he located and unearthed using a metal detector in 2004, after failing to find it during a similar trip several years earlier. YOULUS admitted in court today that this account was false.
YOULUS also admitted to defrauding over 50 victims. YOULUS misappropriated some of the donations the charity received to support his work for his own personal enrichment by, among other means, secretly depositing them into the bank account of his business in Maryland, the Jewish Bookstore, without the authorization of the charity or its donors.
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YOULUS, 50, of Wheaton, Maryland, faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. He will also be required to pay restitution to the victims of his offense and to forfeit over $862,000, representing the proceeds of his crimes. YOULUS is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge McMahon on June 21, 2012.
Mr. Bharara thanked the United States Postal Inspection Service for its outstanding work in the investigation of the case.
The case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Janis Echenberg and Nicole Friedlander are in charge of the prosecution.