The odd case of the self-styled, globe-trotting "Jewish Indiana Jones" took a sad turn Thursday when Rabbi Menachem Youlus was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for fraud.
Youlus, known for remarkable tales of rescuing Holocaust-era Torah scrolls, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on Feb. 2 to having defrauded more than 50 victims, misappropriating some of the donations and secretly depositing them into the bank account of his Wheaton, Md. store, called the Jewish Bookstore. Youlus also defrauded his charity, Save A Torah, Inc. and its donors of $862,000, according to prosecutors.
He was sentenced to 51 months by Judge Colleen McMahon, of the U.S. District Court of Southern New York. He will surrender himself on December 17.
""I will carry that shame and dishonor with me for the rest of my life," said the father of nine kids. "I know I have lifetime of atonement ahead of me."
His dramatic accounts of rescuing Torahs turned out to be contradicted by historical evidence, witness accounts and records showing that he simply passed off used Torahs sold by local dealers who made no claims as to the scrolls’ provenance. The U.S. Attorney's office said that during many of the years in which Youlus claimed to be personally rescuing Torahs overseas, the Baltimore resident had not even traveled internationally.
“This is extremely important because it sends a message that Holocaust deniers and Holocaust memory exploiters are not part of accepted society,” Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, told JTA. “There is very little if any difference between a Holocaust denier and someone like Youlus who exploits Holocaust memories in order to enrich himself.”
Prosecutors noted in court papers that Youlus likened himself to Steven Spielberg's swashbuckling archaelogist, played in four movies by Harrison Ford, in a document related to a 2004 Torah dedication.
The case attracted the attention of Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers, who quipped during a Weekend Update fake news segment in February that Youlus' crimes might have been worth it if he had succeeded in getting one other person to call him the Jewish Indiana Jones.