A charity founder who claimed he travelled the world as a "Jewish Indiana Jones" to rescue Torahs admitted to fraud in a Manhattan court last week.
Rabbi Menachem Youlus, 50, co-founded the Save a Torah charity in 2004 with the aim of retrieving and restoring holy scrolls that had survived the Holocaust or had been forcibly taken from Jewish communities. The charity promised to place these Torahs in active Jewish communities.
Youlus has admitted to lying about daring trips to locations across Europe and Israel, including the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. During his plea, he admitted to fabricating elaborate and detailed accounts of Torah rescue-missions and retracted claims of having personally used a metal detector to unearth a metal box with Torah scrolls in Auschwitz.
A buyer paid around $32,000 for the "Auschwitz" Torah and donated it to a prominent Manhattan synagogue which staged a large ceremony on its reception.
Youlus, who owns a Jewish Bookstore in Wheaton, Maryland, is accused of pocketing nearly a third of the $1.2 million raised by his charity, spending some of it on private school tuition for his children and on personal expenses.
At a 2004 Torah dedication, Youlus wrote: "I guess you could call me the Jewish Indiana Jones", prosecutors claimed - a reference to the adventure hero played by Harrison Ford in films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, authorities said Youlus rarely travelled abroad between 2004 and 2010.
Youlus faces up to five years in prison. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he would seek leniency, describing Youlus as "a good man with the best of intentions who ultimately strayed into fraudulent conduct that he now accepts full responsibility for".
A statement on the Save a Torah website says it is currently "evaluating how best to continue our mission".