NEW YORK — A self-styled “Jewish Indiana Jones” was arrested Wednesday for the unholy business of cheating Jews through a charity purporting to recover Torah scrolls lost in the Holocaust, US law enforcement said.
Menachem Youlus, 50, allegedly defrauded the charity Save a Torah and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the US attorney’s office in Manhattan and the inspector general of the New York office of the US postal service said in a joint statement.
“Youlus, who billed himself as the ‘Jewish Indiana Jones,’ fabricated detailed accounts of having found Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust in Europe, including in Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and in other places around the world,” the statement said.
“He then used those false accounts as a platform for soliciting contributions to Save a Torah, some of which he embezzled by diverting them directly into his personal bank accounts.”
Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan, said the alleged embezzler resembled only in one respect the heroic character of the popular “Indiana Jones” films.
“His alleged exploits were no more real than those of the movie character he claimed to resemble,” Bharara said.
“He chose poorly in allegedly exploiting an excruciating chapter in Jewish and international history to perpetrate a brazen fraud that played on the heartstrings of the people for whom the painful memories of that period will never die.”
Youlus was to be arraigned later Wednesday. If found guilty of one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud, he faces a maximum of 20 years prison on each count and a maximum fine of $250,000.
Despite the arrest, Save a Torah’s website continued to call for donors, saying “more than 60 years after the end of the Holocaust, there is the brief opportunity to rescue and restore Torah scrolls hidden, lost or stolen during the Holocaust and other world upheavals… Time is of the essence.”