This morning, federal judge Denise Cote is scheduled to sentence Rabbi Milton Balkany, the Brooklyn power broker who was found guilty in November of trying to scam the hedge fund king Steven Cohen into “donating” $4 million to a pair of struggling Jewish day schools in exchange for protection against a looming federal insider-trading investigation. (Click here for my dispatch from the trial.) The 64-year-old faces a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines put the recommended sentence somewhere between five-and-a-half to nine years. Yesterday, prosecutors requested nine years. But in a pre-sentencing memorandum filed last week, his lawyers petitioned Cote to exercise her compassion and give the rabbi an even lesser punishment: Just two years. UPDATE 2:30 pm: The judge sentenced Balkany to four years in prison.
The scheme started—and ended—with the rabbi, who approached Cohen on the flawed assumption that the trader would, as a fellow Jew, grant the rabbi the same special consideration Balkany himself frequently extends to his “co-religionists.” Instead, Cohen had his lawyers report Balkany to the federal authorities, and then underwrote their participation in a two-month undercover investigation that ultimately led to the rabbi’s arrest.
But Balkany’s defense, from the start, has been to blame his predicament on everyone but him. When Balkany’s lawyer asked the jury for their indulgence, it was on the grounds that the government had mistaken for simple greed what was actually a decent man’s desperate effort to save his foundering schools. Now, the rabbi’s lawyers are making substantively the same argument, backed by 87 letters from Balkany’s family, friends, and colleagues—a cheering section that includes public officials like Rabbi Moshe Wulliger, a New York State chaplain who submitted his note on official state letterhead, and Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky, head of a prominent Long Island yeshiva and member of a prominent rabbinic family. “I believe Rabbi Balkany’s passion to help others, especially the children from underprivileged families, influenced any bad judgment he has made,” Kamenetsky wrote.
Balkany’s children and his wife, Sarah, echoed these sentiments, writing of the rabbi’s close relationship with his 21-year-old daughter, Naomi, who has Down’s Syndrome, and of the toll the trial and its ensuing publicity have already exacted on the family. “He has already paid a very steep price in terms of shame and anguish, as well as the destruction of his good reputation,” wrote Balkany’s son, Levi.
That is undeniably true. But it is also true that most people expect rabbis, and educators, to set and uphold standards of behavior for the rest of society—a responsibility that would seem to demand a higher bar of punishment rather than a lower one. It remains to be seen whether Balkany will use the opportunity typically offered at sentencing hearings to apologize to those he has disappointed.
Government Asks Judge To Sentence Rabbi Yehoshua Balkany to 9 Years in Prison [InvestmentNews/Failed Messiah]
Related: Tribal Allegiance [Tablet Magazine]