The house at 29 Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton, N.Y., is not the sort of place one might associate with an ultra-Orthodox kabbalist rabbi.
The oceanfront property on one of the upper-crust Long Island vacation town’s toniest streets is a few hundred yards from mansions owned by Martha Stewart and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. When a Dutch banker bought the place in 2001, the main building had seven bedrooms and a solarium, and there were plans to put in a pool.
It’s not clear whether there was a pool by August 2008, when Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto’s charity paid $77,000 to rent the house for three weeks.
The next year, Pinto’s charity spent $40,000 to rent the house again, this time for just a little longer than two weeks.
Pinto, who has reportedly declared his intention to seek the post of Sephardic chief rabbi in Israel next year, has alleged in media reports that he has been the target of blackmail and that funds have been embezzled from his organization. Notwithstanding these allegations, questions about his organization’s finances remain.
Documents obtained by the Forward reveal extensive spending by Mosdot Shuva Israel, Pinto’s New York-based educational and charitable organization, on luxury travel and expensive jewelry. Some of these documents have also been obtained and published by the Israeli press.
Among the expenses covered by the not-for-profit organization:
• $75,000 bill for a monthlong stay at a luxury hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina;
• $65,000 ring;
• $28,000 for fine men’s clothing.
A representative for Pinto’s organization has declined to comment on the Forward’s findings. But on December 20, The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, reported that federal law enforcement is investigating two former Pinto associates. Meanwhile, in an interview aired December 18 on Israel’s Channel 2, Pinto defended some of his organization’s spending. Asked why his organization had rented the Hamptons home, Pinto responded: “Because that’s where the people of the yeshiva live. That’s where the Hasidim of the yeshiva live during Passover.” The Marker, an Israeli business newspaper, reported on December 20 that Pinto told followers that a former volunteer had made the decision to rent the home even though Pinto had been offered free accommodations elsewhere.
In previous investigations published in March and April, the Forward raised questions about the finances of Mosdot Shuva Israel and reported that Pinto’s top American-based aide, Ben Zion Suky, is a former porn distributor.
To those who have met with Pinto, including basketball superstar LeBron James, right-wing commentator Glenn Beck and former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, he is a deeply spiritual man with business savvy and powerful connections. And though the rabbi hobnobs with the rich and famous and lives in an elegant Manhattan townhouse, his associates claim he has little interest in material wealth.