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Ex-Synagogue Head in Pa. Pleads Guilty

June 21, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Prosecutors said Temple Sinai’s ``Breakfast Club″ was an exclusive affair with only two members, the synagogue’s executive director and bookkeeper, who embezzled $1.2 million from the congregation.

Dormer temple executive Barry Wilf pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to bank fraud, mail fraud and tax evasion.

Wilf, 47, acknowledged that between 1993 and 2000 he wrote hundreds of checks from accounts at the Dresher synagogue _ some as big as $10,000 _ and deposited the money in an account for ``The Temple Sinai Breakfast Club,″ an entity invented to cover his tracks.

A federal grand jury charged Wilf’s bookkeeper, Betty Shusterman, 73, with helping him implement the scheme and taking a cut of the money. Shusterman, who had worked for the synagogue since 1963, pleaded innocent and is scheduled to go to trial in July.

In court filings, prosecutors described a systematic looting that drained 10 percent of the temple’s operating budget and left it in perpetual financial distress. The temple’s entire staff, including rabbis and preschool teachers, was forced to take a 5 percent pay cut in 1998 because of the problems, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Zauzmer said in a memo to the judge that no one suspected that Wilf or Shusterman were involved.

``As time went by, the officers and board members developed an impression of Wilf as somewhat scattered and at times even incompetent, but a consensus to dismiss him never developed,″ Zauzmer said. ``He had spent his life at the temple and was an active participant ... there was a deep level of trust, and no one ever fathomed that what was happening was actually occurring.″

Wilf was 23 when he got his first job at the temple in 1979. He became executive director in 1981. Prosecutors said Shusterman had a ``parent-son″ relationship with her young boss and their families were partners in business ventures including two delicatessens and a financial services company.

Prosecutors said the thefts were discovered when the temple hired a new office manager.

Wilf’s attorney, Richard Winters, and Shusterman’s attorney, John Carroll, did not return phone calls Friday. The temple’s executive director, Fred Poritsky, declined to talk about the case.

The congregation had about 1,200 families in the early 1990s, but has since shrunk to about 800, prosecutors said.

Under federal guidelines, Wilf faces between four to five years in prison at sentencing in October.

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