As Poway Mayor Steve Vaus looks on, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein chats with President Trump.
As Poway Mayor Steve Vaus looks on, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein chats with President Trump. Photo by Ken Stone

Chabad of Poway’s former head rabbi faces a maximum five-year prison sentence for tax-evasion and other financial crimes he pled guilty to last July.

But sentencing of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein won’t take place Monday — a day short of two years after he lost his right index finger in the deadly shooting attack on his congregation.

Delay in Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein (PDF)
Delay in Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein sentencing (PDF)

Federal prosecutors and the 59-year-old rabbi’s lawyers sought, and were granted, a six-month delay — to Oct. 26 before U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant.

“The reason for the requested continuance is that the parties are still working on various sentencing issues, including the defendant’s continued cooperation in the government’s investigation,” said a brief signed in February by Goldstein attorney Benjamin L. Coleman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Wasserman.

Phillip Halpern, a former prosector in the San Diego DOJ office, says that “based upon Rabbi Goldstein’s cooperation revealed to date, I would expect that he’d receive a substantial reduction in his sentencing recommendation.”

The Probation Department’s sentencing recommendation is sealed, but former San Diego U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer has said his office would recommend probation based on Goldstein’s cooperation and his “lifetime of service” via the Jewish congregation.

“His role after the 2019 terrorist attack was exemplary,” Brewer said. “He became a significant advocate for peace and the elimination of violence based on religious hatred. He spoke all over the world and sent a strong message of peace.”

Goldstein will pay $2.5 million in restitution as part of the plea agreement, Brewer said.

Goldstein’s 63-year-old brother Mendel of Brooklyn — who also pleaded guilty for his part in fraud schemes and faced a 5-year prison term — was to have been sentenced March 1.

But his sentencing has been pushed back to June 28 before Judge Bashant in downtown federal court.

At least nine other men have pleaded guilty in the long-running fraud, and several others have seen their sentencing delayed.

Among them is Escondido’s Stuart Weinstock, who was to have heard his fate Monday as well. The new sentencing date is June 14 before Bashant.

“The reason for the requested continuance is that the parties are still working on various sentencing issues,” said prosecutor Wasserman and defense attorney John J. Rice in an April 9 filing.

In late January, Weinstock, 64, signed a plea agreement in which he admitted to cheating the IRS of as much as $250,000. He faces a maximum three years in prison.

He’s expected to make a “good faith effort to provide substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of others,” the plea deal says.

Others yet to be sentenced in the case include:

  • Alexander Avergoon, 44, of San Diego, whose March 15 sentencing was reset for May 4. Indicted in August 2019 and apprehended in Latvia, the real-estate agent faces 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to crimes including money laundering and aggravated identity theft.
  • And Dr. Bruce Baker, 75, of La Jolla, whose sentencing hearing was delayed from April 19 to June 7. The pediatric dentist faces five years in prison after cheating the IRS of $644,000.

Boris Shkoller, 84, of Del Mar, received a year’s probation after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return. He had faced up to three years in prison.

Yousef Shemirani, 75, of Poway — founder of the Baron’s Market grocery chain — was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and serve two years’ probation.

Meanwhile, Shemirani’s cousin — Bijan Moossazadeh, 64, of San Diego — has agreed to surrender June 2 and begin serving a two-month sentence in the case after pleading guilty to filing a false tax return, which had a three-year maximum prison term.

Qualcomm engineer Rotem Cooper, 54, of San Diego signed a deferred prosecution agreement that could lead to charges being dropped. He took part in a matching donations fraud and will pay the tech giant $27,330. He faces five years in prison if he doesn’t meet terms of the deal.

Prosecutors said Cooper worked his fraud with someone identified as Y.H., “director of a religious congregation” and San Diego community group.

In December, San Diego Jewish World editor Donald Harrison wrote: “Who is Y.H? If another leader in our Jewish community has been participating in defrauding the government, he ought to be identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Why the secrecy?”

Also a mystery is the employer of Igor Shtilkind, 55, of San Diego, who worked for an “aerospace and defense technology company” and defrauded it of $17,500 over a 10-year period — also by getting it to match contributions to Goldstein-run charities.

As part of another deferred prosecution agreement, Shtilkind must pay $9,520 in back taxes and cooperate with government investigators in the Goldstein case.

In October, former California Deputy Attorney General Sharon Rosen Leib wrote in the Jewish publication Forward: “Does a rabbi who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations meant to serve people with special needs deserve to walk free?”

She said Goldstein should spend time in federal prison and “hopefully get some counseling himself –The $2.5 million in financial restitution he agreed to is not enough.”

“The crimes he committed cut deeper than money,” Rosen said. “They crushed the spirits of members of his congregation and may have cost one woman of valor – a beloved mother, wife, sister – her life.”

She concluded: “If I were sitting on the bench at his sentencing hearing this coming spring, I’d reject the U.S. Attorney’s recommendation for probation and send him to jail for at least a year – enough time to think long and hard about how to make amends.”