MANHATTAN (CN) – A founder of the “Save a Torah” charity, which claimed to rescue Torah scrolls lost during the Nazi Holocaust, was arrested Wednesday and charged with defrauding the charity and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Menachem Youlus, who called himself “the ‘Jewish Indiana Jones,’ fabricated detailed accounts of having found Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust in Europe, including in Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and in other places around the world,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in announcing his arrest. “He then used those false accounts as a platform for soliciting contributions to Save a Torah, some of which he embezzled by diverting them directly into his personal bank accounts. In other instances, Youlus allegedly submitted inflated and doctored invoices to Save a Torah to increase the amount he was reimbursed by the charity for the ‘rescued’ Torahs, which, in at least some instances, he had simply purchased from other Torah dealers.”
Youlus, 50, of Wheaton, Md., co-founded the charity in 2004. He claimed to have traveled around the world to “rescue” Torahs, and used the charity to donate or sell them to synagogues and individuals, prosecutors said.
But records and witnesses showed that he “passed off” Torahs that had no connection to the Holocaust, and that he had simply bought from dealers, and immigration records show that he “appears never to have left the United States” during the years he claimed he was making Indiana Jones-style rescues, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The 21-page complaint is replete with tales of his supposed bravado at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, which were fabrications, prosecutors said. He misappropriated at least $145,000 in donations by sending them to the bank account of his Maryland business, the Jewish Bookstore, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said he sold his bogus “rescued” Torahs for as much as $32,000.
He is charged with mail fraud and wire fraud, each of which is punishable by 20 years in federal prison and fines of $250,000.