Men who ‘conned’ two shuls hunted by police

By Leon Symons, June 27, 2008

Police in London are searching for two alleged Israeli conmen who are said have obtained thousands of pounds in “loans” from gullible synagogue members.

The two, saying they were an uncle and nephew, are said to have asked for and received more than £8,000 in loans from members of one synagogue and smaller amounts from another. Although they returned some of the money, they have since disappeared and are believed to have left behind unpaid bills at the Langham Hilton Hotel in London’s West End, where it is understood they had been staying since the end of March.

Their first target was the Western Marble Arch, where it is believed they were given small sums amounting to several hundred pounds before they were ejected.

They moved on to the Central Synagogue in Great Portland Street, where reports suggest they extracted more than £8,000. Now Central minister Rabbi Barry Marcus has sent a warning to other synagogues in Central London to be on the lookout for the pair.

Rabbi Marcus said: “We had no idea who they were when they first showed up. They did not say where they were from, but said they were property developers who were having some financial problems and needed loans to tide them over. They were put in touch with two members of our community and got around £4,000 from each one and, to be fair, they paid a lot of it back.

“Then they came to me and asked for help. The synagogue has an emergency fund and I gave them a sum from that. They repaid some but there is still money outstanding.

“They are very plausible, they dress very well and they gave the impression of being well-to-do businessmen. But now they have disappeared. They have not been seen in their hotel since the beginning of last week. I want to warn other synagogues about these two men, to try to stop this happening anywhere else,” said Rabbi Marcus.

He said the two men had used at least two different names: “They told us their name was Pilagi, but when people called the hotel no one knew that name. When they were described, the hotel said their name was Alacha.” 

When people wanting to help them asked for a reference, the pair gave the name of a rabbi in Netivot, Israel.

“I asked some rabbonim I knew in Israel to make a check, but they could not confirm that there was any rabbi of that name in Netivot,” said Rabbi Marcus. He said the older man, who was about 45, used the first name Ziv while the younger one, who was about 32, was called Yehoshua or Shai and seemed to be the more observant of the pair.

“I believe the younger man may have gone back to Israel but the older one is still here,” added Rabbi Marcus.

Last updated: 4:21pm, June 27 2008