Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who was dubbed the “Jewish Indiana Jones” for his remarkable tales of rescuing Holocaust-era Torah scrolls, pleaded guilty to fraud.
Youlus’ accounts turned out to be contradicted by historical evidence, witness accounts and records showing that he simply passed off used Torahs sold by local dealers who made no claims as to the scrolls’ provenance.
“I know what I did was wrong, and I deeply regret my conduct,” said Youlus, who pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Thursday.
In court, the 50-year-old Baltimore resident admitted to having defrauded more than 50 victims, misappropriating some of the donations and secretly depositing them into the bank account of his Wheaton store, called the Jewish Bookstore. Youlus defrauded his charity, Save A Torah, Inc. and its donors of $862,000, according to prosecutors.
“Menachem Youlus concocted an elaborate tale of dramatic Torah rescues undertaken by a latter day movie hero that exploited the profound emotions attached to one of the most painful chapters in world history—the Holocaust—in order to make a profit. Today’s guilty plea is a fitting conclusion to his story and he will now be punished for his brazen fraud,” Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Thursday.
A January 31, 2010 Washington Post investigative report brought to light questions about Youlus’ claims.