The founder of a Southern California synagogue that was attacked last year in what prosecutors have called a deadly hate crime pleaded guilty Tuesday to a multi-million dollar tax fraud scheme, authorities said.
Rabbi Ysiroel Goldstein, 58, the former director and founder of the Chabad of Poway, admitted to secretly refunding millions in contributions to the synagogue and providing donors with fake receipts, federal prosecutors in San Diego said in a statement.
Prosecutors said at least 20 donors claimed massive tax deductions while Goldstein kept 10 percent of the contribution and pocketed more than $500,000, prosecutors said. Tax losses to the Internal Revenue Service were estimated at more than $1.5 million in eight years.
Prosecutors said Goldstein was under investigation for the scheme on April 27, 2019, when officials say 19-year-old John T. Earnest opened fire on the Chabad, killing one longtime worshipper and injuring three, including Goldstein, who lost his right index finger.
After the shooting, Goldstein offered a heart-wrenching account of the attack and a powerful message to his congregation: “We are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We will not let anything or anyone take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down.”
In a statement Tuesday, the Chabad said “that was the Rabbi Goldstein the world came to know.”
“Yet, we’ve since learned that Rabbi Goldstein violated the law, contradicted what our synagogue stands for, and transgressed the very moral and ethical rules of the Torah he taught,” the statement said.
After learning of the allegations against Goldstein last year, the Chabad launched an internal review and removed him from his duties. He was also dismissed by the Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters as a representative of the movement, the statement said.
“How do we reconcile this heartbreaking reality with the good Rabbi Goldstein accomplished during his decades of service? How do we separate his unethical and unlawful behavior from his many positive contributions to our community? We will surely struggle with these questions for a long time to come,” the statement said.
Lawyers for Goldstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.
Goldstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud, prosecutors said. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, prosecutors said.
Five of Goldstein’s associates pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, filing a false tax return and other crimes.