MANHATTAN (CN) – The founder of the “Save a Torah” charity, which claimed to rescue Torah scrolls lost during the Holocaust, pleaded guilty Thursday to an $862,000 fraud.
Calling himself the “Jewish Indiana Jones,” Menachem Youlus lied about having found Torahs lost or hidden as the Nazis took over Europe. The intricate stories described Torahs that he found in Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
After exploiting “the profound emotions attached to one of the most painful chapters in world history,” prosecutors say Youlus raised more than $1.2 million in contributions between 2004 and 2010.
Youlus either embezzled the contributions to his personal bank account or he reimbursed himself from the charity with allegedly inflated and doctored invoices.
Though Youlus described daring rescues of the holy texts, in reality he simply purchased them from other Torah dealers.
Historical evidence, witness accounts and sales records contradicted the provenance claims Youlus made. Furthermore, Youlus never left the United States during the years he was supposedly recovering Torahs.
At his plea hearing Thursday, Youlus admitting to fabricating the recovery of a Torah at Auschwitz, which he claims to have found buried in a metal box that alerted his metal detector.
Some of the charity money went to Youlus’ business in Maryland, called Jewish Bookstore.
Prosecutors said he sold his bogus “rescued” Torahs for as much as $32,000.
Youlus, 50, of Wheaton, Md., co-founded the charity in 2004. He faces 40 years in prison at a hearing on June 21 and must forfeit $862,000.