Federal authorities have charged a Lawrence man and a Queens rabbi with using the clergyman’s charitable organization to try to extort $7 million from a victim who wanted to keep incriminating information from authorities.
Mark Weissman, 54, of Lawrence and Rabbi Igal Haimoff, 67, of Flushing, were arrested Monday and appeared in U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak’s Brooklyn courtroom later Monday to answer charges they participated in the scheme that prosecutors said began in early 2017.
The suspects were released on $250,000 bond each, officials said in a news release.
Their attorneys, Susan Necheles of Manhattan, who officials said represented Haimoff, and Eric Creizman of Manhattan, representing Weissman, could not be reached for comment.
Prosecutors said Weissman and Haimoff took part in a scheme to transfer as much as $7 million to a charity that Haimoff controlled, to conceal the money’s ultimate destination. The extortionist and the two men charged planned to share the money, authorities said.
Federal law enforcement agents asserted in the criminal complaint that Haimoff and Weissman played roles in helping a third man coerce the victim into transferring the funds in exchange for a promise not to tell law enforcement about the victim’s illegal activity.
“As alleged, Haimoff and Weissman attempted to characterize the millions of dollars they expected to receive from their extortionate threat as a charitable donation,” said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in a news release.
Prosecutors said that “Weissman enlisted Rabbi Haimoff to allow his charity to receive the extorted funds, as a way to disguise the purpose of the transaction,” adding that “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” on the organization’s letterhead.
One letter that prosecutors said was sent by Haimoff’s organization in May 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.”
In a subsequent letter, which prosecutors said was designed to conceal the fact that the third man was trying to extort $1 million more, Haimoff’s charity thanked the victim for increasing his pledge to the yeshiva because it could then accommodate more children.
But the scheme was exposed because Haimoff and Weissman were actually communicating with an FBI agent, who completed a “test” transfer of $20,000 in funds from a bogus Swiss bank account to an agreed-upon account during the investigation.
“Charity of all kinds, especially related to children, is esteemed to be noble, honest, and true,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. 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.”