Rabbi Pinto’s wife hospitalized after suicide attempt

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The wife of an influential rabbi caught up in a bribery and money laundering probe has been hospitalized in Israel following a reported suicide attempt Sunday, the Jerusalem Post reports.

Dvora Pinto, 37, the wife of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, was admitted to a hospital in Rehovot, Israel Sunday after taking an overdose of pills, reports said.

The couple were remanded to 15 days of house arrest in Ashdod, Israel Thursday (Oct. 11), after being accused of attempting to bribe a senior Israeli police officer with $200,000 for information on a money laundering probe of a charity connected to the rabbi, Hazon Yeshaya. Continue reading

Ex-Aide to Rep. Grimm and Rabbi Pinto changes attorneys

Ofer Biton, a former fundraiser for Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) and aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, has hired a new attorney, Al-Monitor has learned. Biton was arrested by the FBI in August on an immigration fraud charge, amid a federal campaign finance probe of Grimm.

Biton has retained former federal prosecutor Alan Vinegrad, the former US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, as his new defense counsel, sources familiar with the development told Al-Monitor Friday.

Biton has been represented in proceedings to date by John Meringolo, whose most well known past clients include John Gotti Jr., and Gambino crime family soldier Greg DePalma.

Biton, an Israeli citizen, was released on bail to house arrest last week. He appeared at a status hearing on his case before US District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf in Brooklyn Friday, and informed the court of his intent to add Vinegrad to his defense team.

Meringolo, in past court proceedings, has alleged that prosecutors were pressuring his client to cooperate in their campaign finance probe of Grimm in exchange for leniency. But Biton would not cooperate against the Staten Island freshman Republican, he told reporters after a court appearance last month. “I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing of Michael Grimm,” Meringolo told reporters after a hearing Sept. 7. (Asked about the remark–seemingly on behalf of someone other than his client–by Al-Monitor this week, Meringolo declined to comment, but insisted that Biton was the only one paying his legal fees.)

Meringolo also said that he intended to take Biton’s case to trial.

It’s not clear if Biton’s decision to change attorney suggests he is reconsidering his options.

Vinegrad, now a partner at Covington & Burling, did not return a message left by Al-Monitor Friday.

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Rabbi linked to US lawmakers questioned in Israel graft probe


Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, a charismatic rabbi with a large and influential following in New York, has been questioned in Israel on allegations that he tried to bribe a senior Israeli police investigator, Israeli media report Friday. The deepening legal scrutiny of Rabbi Pinto in Israel comes as his former top aide appeared in federal court in New York Friday, amid an FBI campaign finance probe of a congressman accused of pressuring Rabbi Pinto’s followers for illegal campaign donations.

Pinto is alleged to have been caught in a sting offering a senior Israeli police investigator a $200,000 bribe for information concerning a money laundering investigation, Ma’ariv reported.

Rabbi Pinto was questioned Thursday by Israeli police “on suspicion of having tried to bribe chief of the Police Investigation Division Brig.-Gen. Ephraim Bracha,” Maariv’s Avi Ashkenazi reported.

“Escorted by detectives and wearing a wire, the officer, [Bracha], received $100,000 in cash from Pinto, in exchange for which he was to provide information about the investigation into Hazon Yeshaya, a charity organization,” Maariv wrote.

Pinto’s attorney told the paper the rabbi has cooperated in answering the police’s questions and has done nothing wrong.The rabbi and his wife have been released to house arrest in Ashdod, Israel to answer additional questions, reports said.

Rabbi Pinto, 38, has developed an influential following in both Israel and the United States, and has close ties to US lawmakers. In August, the FBI arrested the rabbi’s former top aide, who had worked as a fundraiser for New York Congressman Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island). Al-Monitor reported in August that the top seven donors to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s 2008 campaign were from members of Rabbi Pinto’s congregation.

Ofer Biton, the former aide to Rabbi Pinto and fundraiser for Grimm, had a status hearing in his case before US District Court Judge Roslynn Mauskopf Friday, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York told Al-Monitor Friday.

Biton also informed the court Friday that he has retained a second defense lawyer, Alan Vinegrad, who used to be the US attorney in the district.

Biton, arrested on an immigration fraud charge in August, was released to house arrest last week after a former business partner of Grimm’s put up his $1.5 million bail.

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Ex-aide to rabbi, US lawmaker due in court

An attorney for an Israeli fundraiser arrested by the FBI on an immigration fraud charge tells Al Monitor that he plans to take the case to trial. He also refuted any suggestion that someone other than his client is paying his legal fees.

Ofer Biton, a former fundraiser to Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island, NY) and former aide to Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, was released to house arrest last week after a one-time business partner of Grimm’s paid his $1.5 million bail. Federal authorities are investigating Grimm over allegations that he accepted illegal campaign contributions from members of Pinto’s congregation.

Late Thursday, Israeli media reported that Rabbi Pinto himself had been remanded to house arrest in Israel after allegedly trying to bribe an Israeli police investigator. The reports allege that senior Israeli police investigators had taped Pinto offering a bribe of $200,000 for information on a money laundering investigation concerning him or his associates. Pinto’s attorney told Israel’s Maariv that the rabbi had done nothing wrong and had been cooperating in answering all of the police’s questions.

Biton is due to have a status hearing in his case on Friday, John Meringolo, Biton’s defense attorney, told Al Monitor in a phone conversation this week. Authorities have been seeking to get Biton’s cooperation in their federal campaign finance investigation of Grimm, a freshman Republican who is running for re-election next month. But to date, Biton has refused to cooperate, and Meringolo said he plans to bring the case before a jury.

US prosecutors, arguing against Biton’s release at his bail hearing last week, reportedly alleged that the man who paid Biton’s bail, New York restaurant developer Bennett Orfaly, maintains close ties to his former business partner Grimm, as well a convicted member of the Gambino crime family, the New York Post reported.

“Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm investigated the Gambino crime family as an FBI agent — before opening a restaurant with a business partner so close to one of the mob clan’s capos, he considers him an ‘uncle,’ according to sources and court documents,” the New York Post wrote.

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Tuesday quick reads: Biton bail mob tied, videomaker due in court, US looks to renew Iran talks

Reading list: Red lines, not deadlines, on Iran

  • “The U.S. is ‘not setting deadlines’ for Iran and still considers negotiations as ‘by far the best approach’ to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. (Indira Lakshmanan, Bloomberg)
  • “Israel and the United States are in discussion on setting a ‘red line’ for Iran’s nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.” (Reuters)
  • “We call on the government in Iran to come back to the table with substantial offers, which is very necessary and very crucial at this time.” (German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Reuters)
  • IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, ahead of IAEA board of governors meeting Monday, calls for immediate access to Iran site, says he’s frustrated. (IAEA; Reuters)
  • “What statesmen do when faced with bad options is create new ones. The third choice in this case is to negotiate a deal that lets Iran enrich uranium for civilian use….that applies rigorous safeguards…that gradually relaxes sanctions and brings this wayward country into the community of more-or-less civilized nations.”  (Bill Keller, New York Times)
  • “Immediately after the US presidential election, …Ehud Barak is certain to resume his antics and carry on where he has left off, and the countdown will start all over again.” (Ben Caspit, Maariv/Al-Monitor)