Just over a year ago, in Poway, California, a man barged into a synagogue and began shooting. One person died and three were injured.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was one of the heroes of that tragedy, losing his index finger as he put his hand up in an effort to stop the shooter. He retired from that position last year and has spent much of his time since then leading a fight against hate crimes and gun violence.
But Goldstein is back in the news today for a very different reason: He has pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud.
According to the FBI’s plea agreement on Tuesday, unsealed today, Goldstein helped members of his congregation avoid paying taxes by creating a number of non-profits that effectively functioned as shell companies to hide illegal transactions.
Here’s Courthouse News with the summary:
U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said during a press conference Tuesday Goldstein had personally made off with $620,000 in kickback payments for helping five Chabad of Poway donors evade paying personal income taxes. He called it “The 90/10 Tax Scheme.”“Sadly the facts of this case show a willful effort to deceive on the part of a trusted community leader,” Brewer said.
Goldstein worked with 18 or more taxpayers from 2010 to 2018 to fraudulently lowering their tax liabilities by obtaining $6.2 million in fraudulent donations, representing $1.5 million in tax losses to the IRS, according to the complaint.
Goldstein was additionally accused of fraudulently seeking emergency assistance including FEMA and California Emergency Management Agency wildfire relief funds, grant donations and private loans, according to the complaint
An additional $550,000 in losses to public grant programs and private foundations was also a casualty of the scheme, according to the complaint.
All of this, including the investigation, occurred before the shooting. It took until now to secure all the evidence and obtain the guilty plea. Goldstein will lose $1 million and pay back $2.5 million more in restitution; his sentencing will occur in October. He faces up to 5 years in prison and a separate $250,000 fine.
While the shooting incident is tragic on its own, it shouldn’t detract from the fact that this religious leader was using his power to commit a crime. The scheme began a decade ago and would’ve continued if not for investigators catching on to what was happening. Just because someone has a religious title doesn’t mean that person is automatically trustworthy. This particular case is all the more upsetting because the criminal was also a local hero. The fraud shouldn’t take away from his heroic actions, but his sacrifice doesn’t absolve him of guilt either.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to everyone for the link)