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Rabbi Charged With Smuggling Drugs

October 15, 1998

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ A diminutive 73-year-old rabbi in a rumpled pinstripe suit was released without bail Thursday on a charge he smuggled drugs into a federal prison in the Adirondacks where he ministered to inmates.

Eli Gottesman, a former ``Rabbi of the Year,″ has pleaded innocent to the charge of attempting to provide contraband, a felony.

Authorities say Gottesman tried to smuggle a bottle of Pert Plus shampoo filled with cocaine and marijuana encased in balloons into the Federal Correctional Institute at Ray Brook, in the Adirondack Mountains.

``God knows I didn’t do anything wrong. I was tricked,″ Gottesman said after his court hearing.

Gottesman was arrested by a special agent of the U.S. Justice Department on Oct. 7. Authorities said he had been under investigation for the past several months by prison officials, as well the Justice Department, the FBI, and state police.

``This didn’t just come out of nowhere,″ Ray Brook prison spokesman Michael Lamitie said.

Gottesman could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, federal prosecutor Richard Hartunian.

Gottesman has worked on a contractual basis since 1991 at the federal prison, providing religious services to Jewish inmates every other week for $3,420 a year. He has worked since 1984 as a chaplain at five state prisons in northeastern upstate New York, earning $53,875 a year.

State prison spokesman Michael Houston said the department will suspend Gottesman without pay and seek his dismissal from state service. His contract with the federal prison has been terminated.

Gottesman’s lawyer, Brian Premo, said the case will likely center around whether the rabbi knowingly brought the drugs into the prison.

``Obviously he’s upset,″ Premo said. ``He’s a religious man who’s spent his whole life trying to help people.″

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