Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When You Wish Upon a Starr, Makes a Difference JWho You Are....

Related: One Day Wonders: Rabbis on Trial

I saw three shooting stars recently:

"Man charged in extortion of Sharon rabbi; Temple leader allegedly paid $480,000" by David Abel Globe Staff  May 11, 2015

After a yearlong investigation, a 30-year-old Quincy man has been indicted on charges of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a prominent Sharon rabbi, the Norfolk district attorney’s office said.

Nicholas Zemeitus, formerly of Milton, was arrested Monday afternoon for allegedly extorting the money from Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple Israel of Sharon.

Zemeitus faces seven counts of larceny over $250; two counts of receiving stolen property valued over $250, one count of larceny under $250, and one count of extortion, prosecutors said.

It was unclear who was representing Zemeitus, and he could not be reached.

Court documents released last May asserted that Starr paid Zemeitus as much as $480,000 in exchange for his silence after Zemeitus threatened to make public the rabbi’s alleged sexual relationship with a teenage boy.

Norfolk County district attorney’s spokesman David Traub said he had no comment on Starr.

Thomas Hoopes, a Boston attorney who has represented Starr, did not return calls.

Arnie Freedman, the temple’s president, also did not return calls.

Starr, who developed a national reputation as a leader in Conservative Judaism in his 28 years as rabbi of Temple Israel, allegedly transferred money from the rabbi’s discretionary fund to Zemeitus.

Starr also allegedly sought and received tens of thousands of dollars from longtime congregants and used that money to keep Zemeitus quiet, according to court documents.

Many of those congregants revered the rabbi and thought of him as family, including an elderly Holocaust survivor who is now suing his former spiritual leader.

Among those approached by Starr for money was Freedman. The rabbi told Freedman he was in trouble and needed to borrow $50,000, according to the documents.

Freedman had pressed the rabbi for more details about why he needed the money. “Starr told Freedman that he [Starr] got involved in a romantic relationship with a younger man, whom he [Starr] met online and that the man’s older brother was now extorting money from him,” Scott Leonard, a detective in the Sharon Police Department, wrote in a statement to the court. “Starr said the man was threatening to make details of the romantic relationship public.”

This is so sordid!

In a conversation he had with Detective Leonard and State Police Lieutenant David McSweeney, Zemeitus said he met the rabbi on Craigslist, a website known for enabling casual sexual encounters, according to the court documents. After exchanging e-mails, the two met at Starr’s home in Sharon, where he lived with his wife and two children.

Zemeitus told investigators he thought he was going to meet a 55-year-old woman and became upset when he arrived at the rabbi’s home and found a bearded man in his 60s.

It gets worse.

“Zemeitus told us that he got angry as Starr lied about his true gender and appearance,” Leonard wrote. “Zemeitus told Starr that he was going to inform Starr’s wife about the meeting and that he would be outed.”

In response, the rabbi offered to pay Zemeitus $100 to keep the meeting quiet, Leonard wrote in his report. 

Thought he could do it on the cheap, huh?

It was not clear from the documents how the seemingly chance meeting supported Zemeitus’s story that he was acting on behalf of his younger brother. It remained unclear whether Zemeitus is in fact the teenager’s brother.

Zemeitus told investigators he met Starr several times, including at Temple Israel, and that the money was exchanged to buy his silence. He told police he estimated receiving $200,000 from the rabbi; Starr told Freedman he paid Zemeitus an estimated $480,000.

Last year, Zemeitus said, Starr gave him eight checks belonging to the temple or the rabbi’s discretionary fund, which is often used to help congregants in need, and told Zemeitus to change the dollar amounts and deposit them into his bank account.

“Starr told him that the checks came from people from within the temple who were elderly or people who would not know that the check denominations were altered,” Leonard wrote.

Zemeitus allegedly added two zeros to the end of an $18 check — a spiritual number in Judaism that represents life or good luck — written by a congregant, according to court documents. Another $18 check left in the temple’s donation box by a woman was also altered and cashed, made to look as if it had been written for $1,800, as well, Leonard said.

Zemeitus also used one of the women’s checking account numbers to pay several bills, including $148.54 to T-Mobile, $540.63 to Progressive Direct Insurance, and $537.32 to NStar, Leonard wrote.

Starr was also accused of failing to repay a $50,000 loan he received from Morris Kesselman, an 87-year-old congregant who secured a lien on the rabbi’s home.

Zemeitus is expected to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Norfolk Superior Court.


"New details emerge in Sharon rabbi’s fall; Quincy man pleads not guilty to extortion charges" by Laura Crimaldi and Nestor Ramos Globe Staff  May 12, 2015

DEDHAM — A Sharon rabbi begged, borrowed, and stole nearly $500,000 from his temple and its congregants to buy the silence of a man now charged with blackmailing the spiritual leader, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.

Barry Starr, whose abrupt resignation from Temple Israel in Sharon last year stunned its tight-knit congregation, allegedly paid off Quincy resident Nicholas Zemeitus with cash, checks, and banking information over the course of a shakedown lasting several years. Zemeitus had allegedly threatened to go public with allegations that the rabbi had engaged in a sexual relationship with a teenage boy.

Both men now face charges, indicted by a grand jury on May 7 following a yearlong investigation into the bizarre intersection of their disparate lives.

Starr, 65, rose to prominence as a leader in Conservative Judaism during his decades at Temple Israel. Zemeitus, 30, was living in a squalid home without running water when police first caught wind of his alleged extortion plot last May.

Zemeitus pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, and is being held without bail until a hearing on Thursday. He faces seven counts of larceny over $250, two counts of receiving stolen property over $250, one count of larceny under $250, and one count of extortion, according to the office of Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.

Prosecutors said the suspect’s girlfriend, Alexa Anderson, will be arraigned on similar charges later this week, but will not be charged with extortion.

Starr’s indictment, unsealed Tuesday, charges him with one count of embezzlement by a fiduciary and one count of larceny over $250. He was not in court Tuesday, and will be summoned for an arraignment.

Why the kid gloves?

Starr now lives outside Massachusetts, said Arnie Freedman, president of the congregation. He said Starr has no contact with his former synagogue, and a new senior rabbi, Ron Fish, will take over at Temple Israel on July 1.

“This has been a beloved and respected rabbi for 28 years, and to learn of this news, it’s heartbreaking,” Freedman said Tuesday. “This was a religious and spiritual leader. That’s why this is traumatic.”

You don't have to tell me anything; I'm a Catholic (or once was).

In court documents unsealed Tuesday, Zemeitus described the initial encounter between the two men in late 2011 as the product of his attempts to find an older woman with whom to have sex.

Zemeitus told police he responded to a post online that included a photo of a woman from the neck down. But when he arrived at the address he was given, he found a bearded man in his 60s wearing women’s clothes.

Oh, the rabbi was IN DRAG!!!!

After Zemeitus got upset about the bait and switch, he told police, Starr offered him $100 to keep quiet about it.

Soon, prosecutors say, Zemeitus e-mailed Starr a lengthy, anonymous blackmail note. The December 2011 e-mail accused Starr of concealing a sexual relationship with the writer’s underage brother, and offered one chance to make the whole thing go away.

“If I do not hear back from you ASAP I will begin by making a call to your wife,” the e-mail threatened.

Starr wrote back a few hours later:

“I have never knowingly corresponded to any young boys under 18,” he wrote, “but if that happened it was not my intention. Tell me what I can do?”

No evidence that Starr had a relationship with a teenage boy has been uncovered, according to court documents made available Tuesday, and police say Zemeitus does not have a younger brother. But a search of Starr’s computer showed he posted frequently to Craigslist in search of transsexual escorts.

Good God!

In the months that followed, prosecutors say, the rabbi paid Zemeitus as much as $480,000 in exchange for his silence.

To cobble together the blackmail payments, Starr allegedly transferred money from the rabbi’s discretionary fund and sought and received tens of thousands of dollars from longtime congregants.

He also allegedly turned over to Zemeitus checks that were written to the temple for $18 — a spiritual number in Judaism that represents life or good luck — but that were forged into $1,800 payments. Congregants’ bank information was used to make deposits and payments to an account that belonged to Zemeitus and Alexander, prosecutors allege.

Freedman said he is not sure how many members of the congregation loaned money to Starr, but he believes it was fewer than 10. Some drew up promissory notes, he said.

“They loved him and cared about him and probably didn’t ask questions,” Freedman said.

Tom Brady. 

"A group of San Francisco Catholics threw a Hail Mary Thursday, asking Pope Francis to fire their archbishop. Among those calling for a replacement of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is the father of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Tom Brady Sr. joined about 100 other Bay Area Catholics in signing a full-page advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle Thursday, in which they ask Pope Francis to remove Cordileone as archbishop of Catholic Junipero Serra High School, an all boys school run by the Archdiocese of San Francisco, because of what they say is “an atmosphere of division and intolerance” in the archdiocese. The elder Brady is now chair of the school’s board of regents, and he is still active in his faith. In a 2007 speech to a Catholic men’s group in Worcester, he cited his Catholic faith as offering “some degree of normalcy in our lives.” Brady’s son married Brazilian supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen at St. Monica Catholic Church in 2009, and the couple has baptized their children into the Catholic faith. But the future Hall of Famer said in a New York Times Magazine profile earlier this year that his family isn’t tied to a single religion, and that he’s unsure what to believe. When reporter Mark Liebovich asked Brady about a menorah in his home, Brady replied, “We’re not Jewish. But I think we’re into everything. I don’t know what I believe. I think there’s a belief system, I’m just not sure what it is.” Following the win of his third Superbowl in 2004, Brady speculated that there must be more to life than winning football games." 

Might as well be, and I can't imagine anything more important.

Tom Brady, Bob Kraft at Police Foundation Gala
Robert Kraft, Ricki Lander make the rounds at Oscar parties
Bob Kraft joins an array of stars at NY Fashion Week

And yet he still finds time to do loads of charity work.

One of the congregants who loaned Starr money, Morris Kesselman, secured a $55,000 lien on the rabbi’s home. Starr’s residence in Sharon was sold last August for $635,000 and the lien was satisfied, according to records filed with the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds.

The synagogue, Freedman said, did not track the rabbi’s discretionary fund, in order to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of congregation members who received assistance from it.


Starr did not have access to the account used to pay for the temple’s operating expenses, and after the extortion allegations surfaced, the congregation changed the way it manages the rabbi’s discretionary account to provide more oversight and transparency, Freedman said.

“It’s still very important for clergy to have a discretionary account,” he said. “We just don’t want to take it away. We just want to make sure that this can’t happen again.”

Court documents released last year show Freedman was also among those Starr approached for money — $50,000, according to the documents — but the rabbi came clean about an extramarital affair after Freedman pressed for details.

Soon, Starr resigned, acknowledging his infidelity in a letter to the congregation last May.

Attempts to reach Starr on Tuesday failed, and a lawyer who had previously represented Starr said he was no longer handling the case.

On LinkedIn, Starr lists no current employer.

“I am exploring new challenges in my work life where I can leverage my skills and talents,” Starr wrote.

In 28 years at Temple Israel, he wrote, he guided the institution’s vision, “both fiscally and organizationally.”



Related: Sharon Rabbi Redeemed

I gue$$ so.

"Man accused of extorting rabbi held on $400k bail" by Nestor Ramos Globe Staff  May 14, 2015

DEDHAM — A Quincy man accused of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Sharon rabbi wept in court Thursday as his lawyer described his efforts to kick drugs and alcohol and make a home for his 5-year-old daughter.

That crutch?

But much of the money Nicholas Zemeitus, 30, allegedly spent years wringing out of Rabbi Barry Starr is unaccounted for, prosecutors said, and a judge set Zemeitus’s bail at $400,000 cash. A codefendant, Alexa Anderson, was arraigned Tuesday and released on her own recognizance.

Starr, a national figure in Conservative Judaism, allegedly paid Zemeitus to keep quiet about a sexual relationship with an underage boy, although no evidence of any such relationship has emerged. He is accused of embezzling the hush money from congregants at Temple Israel in Sharon, where he was a rabbi until resigning in disgrace last year.

Starr’s last known address is in Cleveland, but court documents show he has stayed in steady contact with prosecutors. His arraignment has not been scheduled.


Zemeitus’s lawyer, Ronald Rice, argued during Thursday's bail hearing that his client had turned his life around since being ordered into drug and alcohol treatment after an unrelated criminal charge last summer. A bail of $5,000 to $7,000 would perhaps be appropriate, Rice said.

Zemeitus, who pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Tuesday, has been clean and sober since last July, Rice said, and is tested regularly as part of his treatment. Rice did not address prosecutors’ questions about the location of most of the money allegedly provided by Starr in cash in response to some 130 e-mail demands by Zemeitus between 2011 and 2014.

Zemeitus faces seven counts of larceny over $250, two counts of receiving stolen property over $250, one count of larceny under $250, and one count of extortion, according to the office of Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey.

Anderson, whom prosecutors described as Zemeitus’s girlfriend, faces all the same charges, except extortion, and pleaded not guilty.

“I don’t think she has any knowledge with respect to the allegations,” said her lawyer, Thomas Norton.

Anderson has no criminal record, prosecutors said, and she was released on the condition that she not go near Temple Israel.

The intersection between Starr and Zemeitus remains murky. Questioned by investigators a year ago in a dilapidated and since-foreclosed Milton home without running water, Zemeitus told a story about following a Craigslist sex ad for an older woman to Starr’s home, only to encounter the bearded rabbi dressed in drag. Starr, Zemeitus claimed, paid him to keep quiet about the incident.


But e-mails recovered from Starr’s computer after he finally came clean about the blackmail plot painted a different picture, Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Greg Connor said in court Thursday.

Let me guess: he's now the victim.

In an initial e-mail, Zemeitus allegedly accused Starr of having sex with Zemeitus’s underage brother — Zemeitus has no brother, and investigators say no evidence that Starr was involved with anyone underage has been uncovered — and threatened to call Starr’s wife with the information. Starr denied knowingly having any correspondence with anyone underage, but agreed for the first of what would be more than 100 times to pay Zemeitus to go away.

If he wasn't diddling why did he agree, and where is the NSA in all this? Giggling?

By begging congregants for loans, turning over their donation checks, and withdrawing cash from accounts he controlled, Starr allegedly gave Zemeitus about $450,000 over the next two years, only stopping when a congregant demanded to know the truth and refused to loan him $50,000.

Soon after, Starr acknowledged marital infidelity in a letter to congregants and left Massachusetts in shame. 

Is he going to be coming back?

One of the congregants who loaned Starr money, Morris Kesselman, secured a $55,000 lien on the rabbi’s home. Starr’s residence in Sharon was sold last August for $635,000 and the lien was satisfied, according to records filed with the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds.

A pretrial conference for Zemeitus and Anderson was scheduled for June 23.