Founder Of “Save-A-Torah” Charity Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 51 Months In Prison For Defrauding The Charity And Its Donors
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that MENACHEM YOULUS, a co-founder of the Save-a-Torah charity in Maryland, was sentenced today to 51 months in prison for defrauding the charity’s donors and those who purchased its Torahs. YOULUS pled guilty in February 2012 to one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. He was sentenced today by United States District Judge Colleen McMahon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Menachem Youlus told tall tales of derring-do, exploiting painful emotions attached to tragic historical events in order to make a quick buck. To inflate his reputation and his bank account, he duped his unsuspecting victims into believing he had actually ‘rescued’ sacred Torah scrolls, but his lies caught up with him and he will now be punished for his crimes.”
According to the Information to which YOULUS pled guilty and statements made during court proceedings in the case:
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 encourage donations. The charity received over $1.4 million in contributions from over 800 donors 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.
In addition to lying about how he came into possession of the Torahs, YOULUS also defrauded Save-a-Torah and its contributors by fraudulently inflating the value of the Torahs he sold through the charity, submitting false claims for reimbursement of travel expenses, and by secretly misappropriating over $140,000 of the donations the charity received to support his work.
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In addition to the prison term, Judge McMahon sentenced YOULUS, 51, of Wheaton, Maryland, to three years of supervised release. YOULUS was also ordered to pay $990,336.05 in restitution to victims, to forfeit $862,044.33 to the United States, and to pay a $200 special assessment fee.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the United States Postal Inspection Service.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Nicole Friedlander and Janis Echenberg are in charge of the prosecution.