Sharon, Mass. is a community in Massachusetts with a predominantly conservative to modern Orthodox Jewish community. It is one of the few cities that has a majority of Jewish inhabitants. We don’t receive many tips from there, except as they relate to the comparison of priests to rabbis in the child-molestation landscape.
What we found striking about the following article is that there is something to be said for the former rabbi who admits to embezzling money and repays that money, or at least most of it.
Sadly, he was as much the victim as he was the guilty, though we reserve the right to change our position on that if Barry Starr is found to have sexually abused anyone. For those who will say that we are quick to judge when it comes to the ultra-Orthodox and slow to judge because Barry Starr was a conservative rabbi, you could be right.
We have not found an ultra-Orthodox rabbi admitting to guilt and returning the money. Perhaps there are other lessons to be learned here.
Ex-rabbi admits role in embezzling scheme
By John R. Ellement GLOBE STAFF AUGUST 30, 2016
A former Sharon rabbi who tapped into temple funds to pay off a blackmailer has admitted to financial wrongdoing in Norfolk Superior Court, but he could see all the charges against him dismissed if he is not charged with any crimes during the next 12 months.
Barry Starr, who was the rabbi at Temple Israel for 28 years, used the temple’s discretionary charitable fund to pay $458,300 to blackmailer Nicholas Zemeitus between 2012 and 2014, according to the Norfolk district attorney’s office and court records.
Appearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove on Friday, prosecutors asked that Starr be found guilty of embezzlement by fiduciary and sentenced to two years probation. But Cosgrove adopted the defense’s suggestion that Starr admit there were enough facts to convict him and continue the case without a finding for a year, which could lead to the charges being dismissed.
While married and the leader of the Conservative temple, Starr was secretly dating men when Zemeitus falsely told Starr one of the people he had been intimate with was his 16-year-old brother and threatened to reveal his actions, prosecutors said.
In court papers, Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Gregory P. Connor wrote that after an extensive investigation into Starr, his financial dealings, and his computer at the temple, no evidence had been found to back Zemeitus’s allegation.
“The Commonwealth has not identified any evidence that Starr had sexual contact with underage minors nor possessed child pornography,” Connor wrote. “It appears that Starr had adopted a gay lifestyle late in life that had resulted in him cheating on his wife. Due to his marriage and prominence in the community, Starr capitulated to the extortion.’’
The blackmail scheme unraveled when Starr told Zemeitus he could no longer pay him, and Zemeitus responded by breaking into Starr’s office, where he stole checks meant for the discretionary fund that he then deposited into his own account.
In 2015, Zemeitus pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to four to five years in state prison, followed by three years probation.
Starr has repaid all but $67,000 back to the temple, but the temple is not pushing for full restitution or for Starr’s imprisonment, prosecutors wrote in court papers. Temple president Edward Hershfield said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the congregation is looking to the future.
“He did a lot of good for a long period of time. It’s a real tragedy,’’ Hershfield said of Starr. “We are pleased the proceedings have come to an end. We are fully supportive of the district attorney’s office and the decision the judge reached. … We really have moved on from this.’’
FOR FURTHER READING:
Barry Starr in Jewish Boston:
Nicholas Zemeitus, of suburban Boston, was arrested and charged on Monday, the Boston Globe reported. He had threatened to expose the affair unless he was paid by Rabbi Barry Starr,who resigned a year ago from Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Sharon, Massachusetts.
Starr allegedly paid nearly half a million dollars — taken from synagogue funds and borrowed from his congregants — to hide his two-year affair with the 16-year-old. Much of the money came from the rabbi’s discretionary fund, including checks altered by the rabbi. Starr also borrowed thousands of dollars from an elderly congregant, a Holocaust survivor.
Zemeitus claimed to be the older brother of the teen, who was 18 when the affair ended.
He was charged with eight counts of larceny, two counts of receiving stolen property and one count of extortion.
Zemeitus said he met the rabbi on Craigslist, according to the Globe, citing court documents. He met Starr at his home after an exchange of emails.
It is still unclear if Zemeitus is related to the teen, though he claimed to have copies of emails exchanged between the rabbi and the teen, as well as photographs of them together. The affair started three years ago and ended about a year ago.
Starr, a married father of two, is credited with expanding the congregation he served for 28 years to over 600 families. He has served on the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary and as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, as well as the region’s Rabbinical Assembly.