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Officials: Synagogue treasurer stole $612G

Isaac Zucker, 47, of Woodmere and the treasurer

Isaac Zucker, 47, of Woodmere and the treasurer of a Woodmere synagogue, is led out of Nassau County police headquarters in Mineola to be arraigned on a larceny charge. (June 29, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

The long-trusted treasurer of a Woodmere synagogue was charged Wednesday with embezzling more than $600,000 from the congregation.

Isaac Zucker, 47, of Westwood Road in Woodmere, is accused of transferring money between February of 2008 and this month from Congregation Aish Kodesh's coffers, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Azriel Ganz, the synagogue's board chairman, said the funds were moved from the synagogue's operating account to its endowment fund. Ganz said a portion of the funds were then transferred to what court records show are Zucker's personal and professional accounts.

In all, $612,000 was discovered missing, according to court papers.

Zucker was arrested early Wednesday at a Holiday Inn near Long Island MacArthur Airport -- five days after his wife reported him missing and two weeks since synagogue leaders confronted him about missing funds.

Nassau District Court Judge Andrew Engel ordered Zucker, a securities attorney with an office in Garden City, held on $300,000 bond or $150,000 cash during his appearance Wednesday at First District Court in Hempstead.

Zucker's attorney, Bruce Wenger of Manhattan, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf as several members of Zucker's family sat in the gallery.

"My client is denying the charges," Wenger said after the proceeding, where he told the judge that Zucker is a lifelong New Yorker who has roots in Queens and Manhattan.

"We are investigating the facts of the case," he said, adding, "Members of his family are beside him."

Zucker, who served as the 250-family orthodox congregation's volunteer treasurer since 2006, is due back in court on Tuesday.

"This was the act of a trusted senior leader," Ganz said, adding that the synagogue was never late on its payments until the ruse was discovered. "Even the best procedures sometimes don't prevent things like this from happening. He was a very trustworthy fellow."

Ganz said synagogue leaders confronted Zucker on June 16, and he promised to replenish the funds by June 21 -- but did not.

Only after the funds were not replaced did the synagogue call police, said Ganz, who reported the financial discrepancies to police Tuesday.

Ganz said synagogue leaders told the congregation about the apparent theft last Thursday and raised enough money since then to cover their expenses and to catch up on late payments.

Ganz said the synagogue, which was founded in 1992, would be working with its insurer to see how much it would be able to recover. The synagogue did not have an outside auditor, Ganz said, but would consider hiring one.

Zucker's wife reported him missing on Friday.

Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said officers found Zucker in the hotel at 1:55 a.m. Wednesday, but that it was unclear whether Zucker had booked a flight.

Smith said that a forensics examination traced transfers of funds from the Aish Kodesh accounts directly to those controlled by Zucker.

The court ordered Zucker to surrender his passport after a prosecutor, Marshall Trager, called him "a substantial flight risk."

The charges surprised Hector Hinkson, 70, one of Zucker's neighbors.

"Nice, nice people," he said of the Zuckers. " . . . As long as I've know them they've been the same way -- very pleasant. You can't say anything bad about him -- not in a million years. I have a headache. I feel sick over this."

With Zachary R. Dowdy, Jeremy Schneider and John Valenti

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