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

I thought I might throw my two cents in about the welcome federal sentencing Tuesday of Yisroel Goldstein, formerly the rabbi of Chabad of Poway, to 14 months in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Cynthia Bashant was absolutely right to reject the joint recommendation of the defense and the prosecution to put Goldstein on four months’ home confinement followed by probation — without serving any hard prison time.

Judge Bashant said Goldstein had taken advantage of too many people, even his own congregants, in his greedy pursuit of wealth. Prison time, scheduled to begin Feb. 23, will send a message to anyone who might emulate his scheme.

Sure, Goldstein offered honeyed words about his desire to make amends as a civilian, but honeyed words had long been his specialty. Under the color of being a respected, caring spiritual leader, he defrauded the government out of tax revenues, cheated corporations that offered matching funds for charitable donations and failed the members of his congregation.

Hannah Kaye is the daughter of Lori Gilbert Kaye, of blessed memory, who was slain in the Passover 2019 attack on Chabad of Poway. Hannah told reporters after the sentencing that she held Goldstein partially responsible for her mother’s death. He had applied to the government for money to beef up the security of the congregation, but never got around to implementing that security. He was too busy lining his pockets.

Had the door not been wide open, without any guard to check who was coming into the synagogue, convicted killer John T. Earnest might have been prevented from walking into the lobby of the congregation and opening fire, killing Kaye and wounding Goldstein and two congregants. Earnest is now serving a lifetime sentence in state prison, and another lifetime sentence was meted out in federal court. Hopefully, we won’t hear much more from that antisemite.

One of Goldstein’s fingers was shot off and he used that wound to try to bolster his reputation, which he knew would soon be in shreds. You see, six months before the shooting, federal investigators served a warrant to search his house and confronted him with evidence of his tax fraud.

He knew since Oct. 17, 2018, that he would be formally charged. He cut a deal with prosecutors to give evidence against the greedy associates who claimed fraudulent tax deductions for huge sums of money supposedly donated to Chabad of Poway. Goldstein had rebated 90% of their supposed donations to them, pocketed the remaining 10% for himself, and wrote out phony receipts for the collaborators to send with their tax returns to the IRS.

After the shooting, Goldstein by some mysterious process was invited to the White House to meet with President Trump, even though the U.S. Attorney’s Office knew that criminal charges were pending against him and could have tipped off the Attorney General or the White House — and perhaps did. How Goldstein got the invitation to appear beside then President Trump at a National Day of Prayer is still a mystery.

Thereafter, Goldstein even addressed the United Nations to speak against the evils of antisemitism, all the time knowing that by his previous conduct he had forfeited the right to that honor.

The stink that surrounds Goldstein’s misdeeds is not totally alleviated by his sentencing.

Serious questions have been raised about why members of his family should continue to control Chabad of Poway as well as the Friendship Circle, from which a respected lay leader who was the organization’s co-founder, Elisheva Green, resigned in protest.

There have been reports, as yet unverified, that Friendship Circle has since been able to disentangle itself from the Goldstein family.

And there is a mysterious reference in a document previously issued by the federal prosecutor’s office about the leader of another Jewish institution, his or her name not given, also having been involved in a fraudulent scheme. So far, that shoe has yet to drop.

Donald Harrison is editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World, where this piece was first posted. San Diego Jewish World is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.