SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A Poway rabbi who survived a gunman's rampage on his synagogue over a year ago is facing probation after pleading guilty to federal charges of tax fraud and wire fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego said in a press conference Tuesday.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein pleaded guilty to participating in a 90-10 "tax deduction conspiracy" in which Goldstein collected large donations to Chabad of Poway, but then secretly returned 90 percent of the contribution back to the individual along with a receipt.
"The donors then illegally claimed huge tax deductions for these fake donations, and Rabbi Goldstein kept for himself 10 percent of the donations which over the course of this fraud totaled more than $600,000," said United States Attorney Robert S. Brewer.
"Sadly, the facts of this case show a willful effort to deceive on the part of a trusted community leader," said Brewer.
The U.S. Attorney said his office began investigating Goldstein in November 2016. The rabbi learned about the investigation in 2018 after federal agents served search warrants at his home and office.
Brewer said Goldstein submitted fraudulent invoices to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other entities in order to obtain grant funding. The rabbi created fake invoices using a
fictitious construction company to receive money for property damage repairs caused by the 2007 San Diego wildfires.
Goldstein obtained grants to make improvements or repairs to Chabad, but he instead pocketed the money, according to the criminal complaint.
Goldstein, 58, fell into the national spotlight in April 2019 after a gunman armed with an AR-15 style weapon opened fire inside the Chabad of Poway during the final day of Passover. The shooting left one person dead and three others injured, including a young girl.
Federal officials have charged suspected gunman John Earnest with 109 total hate crime-related violations. Under the federal charges, Earnest faces a possible death sentence.
Goldstein was shot in both index fingers and lost one of his index fingers as a result. The rabbi was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast at the White House days after the incident.
In response to the charges, the Chabad of Poway said it removed Goldstein from his duties and terminated its relationship with him.
"Upon learning of these allegations some months ago, we launched an internal review, following which the rabbi was removed from all of his duties at Chabad of Poway, his relationship with the organization terminated, and he was dismissed by Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters as a representative of the movement," the Chabad of Poway said in a statement.
"We hope and pray that Rabbi Goldstein finds the professional help that he needs and makes amends to our country and to the people he has hurt. And we pray that the Goldstein family find the healing they so deserve," the Chabad of Poway added.
Brewer said Goldstein has cooperated with authorities, leading to his co-defendants' guilty pleas.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is recommending Goldstein be sentenced to probation. Goldstein has also agreed to pay $2.5 million in restitution, said Brewer.
The Chabad of Poway issued the following statement:
This is a very painful time for our congregation. Following the attack on our synagogue last year, when we were frozen with shock and fear, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein brought us together and inspired our community. That was the Rabbi Goldstein we knew. That was the Rabbi Goldstein the world came to know.
Yet, we’ve since learned that Rabbi Goldstein violated the law, contradicted what our synagogue stands for, and transgressed the very moral and ethical rules of the Torah he taught.
Upon learning of these allegations some months ago, we launched an internal review, following which the rabbi was removed from all of his duties at Chabad of Poway, his relationship with the organization terminated, and he was dismissed by Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters as a representative of the movement. (We were unable to disclose this at the time so as not to interfere with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation.) Throughout, we have cooperated with law enforcement, who have treated our congregation with respect, dignity and grace.
How do we reconcile this heartbreaking reality with the good Rabbi Goldstein accomplished during his decades of service? How do we separate his unethical and unlawful behavior from his many positive contributions to our community? We will surely struggle with these questions for a long time to come.
Despite these challenges, we are resolved to move forward together and to distinguish between Rabbi Goldstein’s own misdeeds and the timeless ethical and moral Torah teachings he helped connect us to. We will continue to serve G‑d with joy, to heal and grow stronger, to share acts of goodness and kindness, and to ensure that Chabad of Poway renews its role as a beacon of light and source of inspiration for the greater Poway community and beyond.
We hope and pray that Rabbi Goldstein finds the professional help that he needs and makes amends to our country and to the people he has hurt. And we pray that the Goldstein family find the healing they so deserve.
We request that during the coming days and weeks our community and the Goldstein family please be given the respect, privacy and space they need. Any questions relating to the investigation should be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Chabad of Poway