Long Island Man and Queens Rabbi Arrested in $7 Million Extortion Attempt
Defendants Sought to Disguise the Extorted Funds as a Charitable Donation
A complaint was unsealed earlier today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Igal Haimoff, a rabbi, and Mark Weissman with engaging in a scheme to extort $7 million from an individual in exchange for not providing purportedly incriminating information to law enforcement authorities. Haimoff and Weismann were arrested today and made their initial appearance this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak. The defendants were each released on a $250,000 bond.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and James D. Robnett, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI), announced the charges.
“As alleged, Haimoff and Weissman attempted to characterize the millions of dollars they expected to receive from their extortionate threat as a charitable donation,” stated United States Attorney 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.”
“Charity of all kinds, especially related to children, is esteemed to be noble, honest, and true,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “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.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation takes criminal actions that undermine confidence in the Internal Revenue Code seriously. Disguising illegally obtained funds as charitable donations is disgraceful,” stated IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Robnett. “The allegations outlined in this criminal complaint are serious and we are obligated to use our financial expertise to unravel the scheme devised by Rabbi Haimoff and Mr. Weissman.”
According to the complaint, beginning in early 2017, Weissman advised the Victim that unless he paid $6 million, another individual (Person A) would provide incriminating information to law enforcement. Weissman enlisted Rabbi Haimoff to allow his charity to receive the extorted funds, as a way to disguise the purpose of the transaction. Haimoff and Weissman ultimately created and transmitted a fraudulent charitable donation letter to the individual they believed would be sending the extorted funds from overseas. The letter, on the charity’s letterhead from Haimoff, stated:
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].
In fact, when transmitting the letter, Haimoff and Weissman were actually communicating with an FBI agent acting in an undercover capacity.
Haimoff later indicated that Person A was increasing the demand to $7 million. The victim indicated that he could provide these funds and Haimoff requested 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 emails, 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.
The charges in the complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Haimoff and Weissman each face up to 5 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Public Integrity Section. Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Reilly is in charge of the prosecution.
Flushing, New York
Lawrence, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-MJ-54