By Ted Sherman
Religion News Service
TRENTON, N.J. (RNS) Of all those targeted in what became the biggest FBI sting operation in New Jersey history, Rabbi Mordchai Fish was among the most secretive.
He changed cell phones constantly, worried aloud about electronic bugs and had cash couriers all over Brooklyn.
On Friday (April 8), the tearful 58-year-old Orthodox rabbi pleaded guilty in federal court to a money laundering scheme that used religious charities to hide nearly $1 million in funds.
Fish was one of 44 people initially charged in the widespread sting, which came to light in July 2009. Rabbi Saul Kassin, the 89-year-old spiritual leader of the nation's largest Syrian Sephardic Jewish congregation, has pleaded guilty to one count of operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.
Fish admitted to U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano that he agreed to a series of transactions that were funneled through several community charities known as "gmachs," which Fish controlled, and made cash available through an underground money-transfer network that stretched from Brooklyn to Israel.
According to criminal complaints filed in the case, Fish would not use the word cash, but instead referred to laundered money as "gemoras," a reference to part of the Talmud.
"After due consideration with his family and loved ones, Rabbi Fish decided that it was proper and right to acknowledge his behavior," said his New York attorney, Michael Bachner.
Fish is scheduled to be sentenced July 28, when he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.