Arrest is latest legal entanglement for Rabbi Pinto

Rabbi Pinto
Rabbi Pinto

Lawyers for Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto are denying allegations against him following the arrest of the spiritual leader in Israel on Thursday. Pinto and his wife were arrested on suspicion of attempted bribery of a high–ranking police officer in connection with a prior investigation, according to press reports.

The two were questioned in connection with a money–laundering investigation and released on bail, but have been confined to their home in Israel. New York-based lawyers for Pinto say he has not been formally charged with anything, and proclaim the investigation is part of a wider campaign against the influential religious figure.

Pinto has strong ties to New York’s real estate community, with ties to investor Haim Binstock , real estate broker Ilan Bracha and the development firm Livorno Properties.

“Once again, Rabbi Pinto has been the victim of an attempted scheme to defame and slander his reputation and diminish the monumental impact of his charitable work,” New York-based attorney Arthur Aidala, who represents Pinto in the U.S, told The Real Deal in an emailed statement. “Unlike in the American criminal justice system, in Israel an individual can be detained for a prolonged period of time without formal charges, this is in no way proof of wrongdoing.”

Aidala added that Pinto would continue to cooperate fully with authorities and called the investigation “baseless.”

The probe marks the latest in a series of legal entanglements involving Pinto, both in Israel and America.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had reportedly been investigating an organization linked to Pinto following reports of a fraud investigation involving the Hazon Yeshaya charity, whose director and founder were arrested earlier this year on suspicion of selling food for cash instead of distributing the food to Holocaust survivors.

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The FBI arrested Israeli businessman Ofer Biton on charges of immigration fraud, after he allegedly served as a liason to Rep. Michael Grimm, of Staten Island, who allegedly received up to $300,000 in campaign contributions from Pinto’s followers.

Aidala said he was not aware of the “substance” of the FBI investigation and said he has not been contacted in connection with any probe. A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in Manhattan, said the office does not confirm nor deny investigations as part of its policy.

In an separate civil matter, Pinto, Ilan Bracha and Haim Binstock were sued in 2011 in connection with a plan to convert a 2,700-square-foot retail space at the Heritage at Trump Place into a synagogue. The men allegedly defaulted on $1.2 million in loans, however, their lawyers strongly denied the allegations.

In 2010, Ben Zion Suky and Yossi Zaga, principals of Livorno Properties, were sued for allegedly defaulting on a $2.5 million mortgage at the Duplex, a 37-unit condo at 215 East 81st Street. The lender, operating under the name of Petermark, acquired the loan from investors Peter Stern and Mark Pnini, after Suky and Zaga defaulted on the loan in September 2010.

Suky and Zaga have deep business ties with Pinto and his organization. Suky, a close aide of the rabbi, and Pinto’s wife were sued in March for allegedly defaulting on a condo at 450 East 83rd Street called the Cielo.

Unit owners at the Duplex had previously filed suit in March 2009 against Suky and Zaga, alleging they failed to pay common charges on the building’s unsold units and complained of massive construction defects. The Department of Buildings placed a partial stop–work order on the building in January 2010 and a receiver was appointed in January 2010 to oversee the renovation of the property.

Judge Peter Sherwood ordered on October 2 the sale of an apartment at the building, in which $450,000 will be used to complete construction and preserve the sponsor-owned units at the building.