Brooklyn Rabbi Mordchai Fish, Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Conspiracy

TRENTON, NJ—Mordchai Fish, the principal rabbi of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn, N.Y., admitted today to conspiring to launder approximately $900,000 he believed was criminal proceeds, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Fish, 58, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano to an Information charging him with money laundering conspiracy.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in Trenton federal court:

Fish admitted that beginning in early 2008, he met with Solomon Dwek, an individual he now knows was a cooperating witness with the United States. For a fee of approximately 10 percent, Fish agreed to launder and conceal Dwek's funds through a series of purported charities, also known as "gemachs," which Fish controlled or to which he had access. Fish admitted that prior to laundering Dwek's funds, Dwek repeatedly told him the money was the proceeds of illegal activity—including bank fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and bankruptcy fraud.

In order to hide the source of the money, Fish directed Dwek to make the checks payable to several gemachs—including Boyoner Gemilas Chesed, Beth Pinchas, CNE and Levovous—which were purportedly dedicated to providing charitable donations to needy individuals. Once Dwek gave him the checks, Fish passed them to a coconspirator who deposited them into bank accounts held in the names of the purported charities. Fish would then arrange to make cash available through an underground money transfer network. Other individuals, including David S. Golhirsh, Naftoly Weber, Avrohom Y. Polack, Binyamin Spira, and Yoely Gertner, would provide Fish and Dwek with the cash.

Fish admitted that he engaged in approximately 15 money laundering transactions with Dwek, helping to convert approximately $900,000 in checks into more than $800,000 in cash, keeping a cut.

At the time of his arrest, Fish was charged in three separate criminal complaints along with his brother, Rabbi Lavel Schwartz. Weber, Polack, and Spira each pleaded guilty in November 2010 to operating illegal money transmitting businesses, admitting that they transferred thousands of dollars in cash to Fish and Dwek. The charges against Gertner, Schwartz, and Goldhirsh remain pending; Schwartz and Goldhirsh were indicted last week for money laundering conspiracy and related offenses.

The charge to which Fish pleaded guilty carries a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, Fish agreed to forfeit approximately $90,000 by the date of sentencing, scheduled for July 28, 2011.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward, and special agents of IRS - Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Victor W. Lessoff, with the investigation leading to today's plea.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren of the U.S. Attorney's Office Special Prosecutions Division in Newark.

As for the complaint and Indictment charging Gertner, Schwartz, and Goldhirsh, the charges and allegations are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.