Rabbi Saul Kassin.(Christopher Sadowski/NY Post)

Rabbi Saul Kassin, the 89-year-old religious leader of the 75,000-strong Syrian Jewish community of New York and New Jersey, is now a felon: Yesterday afternoon, more than 20 months after his arrest in a wide-ranging FBI sting that netted everyone from elderly rabbis to New Jersey pols, he pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering in a federal courtroom in Trenton, New Jersey.

From the start, the rabbi, who appears everywhere in a large-brimmed black hat, his white beard flowing, insisted on his innocence. He was, after all, no Madoff; what he did, according to government affidavits, was take checks from congregants and other rabbis, no questions asked, and then return the funds from his own charitable accounts, minus 10 percent. The rabbi’s cut helped finance the vast network of schools and social services that keep the Syrian community together—a mitzvah, of sorts.

But the outcome of the case was all but determined from the start. Even with the best representation—and Kassin’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, is widely regarded as one of the best criminal-defense men in New York—fighting the government’s case, built with help from Solomon Dwek, the man who turned on his cohorts, would have been an uphill battle, and taken its toll on a man Kassin’s age.

So, now what? Kassin agreed to forfeit $367,500 seized by federal authorities after his arrest. Prosecutors have said that, as part of Kassin’s plea, they will not seek a prison term, though the supervising judge could impose a sentence of up to five years. Kassin also faces up to an additional $250,000 in fines. But, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, that will be that. “Few financial crimes offend our sensibilities like those that hide illegal activities behind the curtain of charity,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement.

Rabbi Pleads Guilt in Connection with Brooklyn Money-Laundering [NY Post]
Related: Crisis of Faith [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Insider Led Agents to Rabbis, Pols
Dwek, Center of N.J. Fraud Case, Pleads Guilty to Bank Fraud