Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Getting Ready for Rosh Hashanah

As background for the benefit of readers who are not fully informed on the basics of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah will arrive at sundown on Monday night, 30 September 2008. The process of atoning for our sins is not limited to Yom Kippur, so in addition to being the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah also begins the Ten Days until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. During those 10 days we not only are required to settle our sins against G-d, but we also must ask forgiveness from the humans we may have wronged during the year.

It is against the foregoing background that this posting is written.

On 12 June 2003, one Mordechai Samet was given a 27-year prison sentence, following conviction in December 2002 on various fraud and racketeering charges. At the time, I thought that the sentence was a bit on the heavy side of severe. And, at the time, I wondered whether Samet's professed religious Jewish faith played any role in the perceived severity of the sentence. We religious Jews (I am not particularly comfortable with the label "Orthodox") are, after all, supposed to be a light unto the nations, and whenever we fall short of our G-d given role, it engenders much disappointment amongst the nations of the world. For this reason, religious Jews who commit crimes often do receive heavier sentences. This is not conceptually different from the especially stringent standards to which lawyers are often held in criminal matters, nor the especially stringent standards to which IRS employees are held in their personal tax affairs.

Prior to his relocation to the Federal Correctional Institution at Otisville, NY, Samet resided in a community known as Kiryas Joel, New York. Kiryas Joel is an insular community of Satmar Hassidim. I give this information by way of background, and not to per se belittle Kiryas Joel or its residents or the Satmar Hassidim in general.

Well, it has come to my attention that Samet is now complaining, via the "Rescue Samet" website (apparently maintained by his family and/or friends, inasmuch as he is unlikely to have Internet access in the Big House where he now resides), that he is a victim! Samet has purportedly written a tome entitled Crusade by a Religious Activist in our Courtrooms: The Hijacking of our Court Systems by a Fanatical U.S. Judge, wherein he attempts to make the case that Judge Colleen McMahon, the judge who presided over his trial and who imposed sentence upon him, was motivated by a religious-based bias against him. I was initially willing to buy into Samet's thesis, at least until I began to read the very first page of the Introduction to Samet's magnum opus. it. In no particular order, the following matters struck me as inconsistent or disingenuous:

A. Describing the bust made by the Federal agents on 29 March, 2001: "The operation was carried out as if the agents were arresting the 10 most wanted criminals in America, or some big crime Mafia. Access to the town was shut down by the agents toting shotguns, with helicopters hovering over. Cars were not allowed to enter or leave the town. The government labeled the 12 men arrested the 'Samet Group'".

As mentioned earlier, Kiryas Joel is a very insular town. That is the way the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, the great-uncle of the two rabbis who now are locked in a contentious battle for the leadership of the Satmar Hassidim (and, not coincidentally, control over assets estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars), intended Kiryas Joel to be. And I do not denigrate the Kiryas Joel community for its engineered insularity; there is much to be said for living life free of televisions or newspapers and other sources of negative influence from contemporary society -- provided that a community such as Kiryas Joel abides by the law.

It must be remembered that the purpose of the law enforcement operation was not only to bring the suspects into custody, but also to preserve evidence. The Feds could not have expected any cooperation from the residents of the Kiryas Joel community, and therefore, the tactics used in the bust of 29 March 2001 were warranted.

B. "Kiryas Joel is a quiet religious town with no history of violence or criminal activity."

Not quite! Below are some incidents of violence and/or criminal activity in Kiryas Joel. These are just those appearing in the news media (and this is not an endorsement of the New York Times). There are more, including some of which I am not entirely familiar, and/or of which my professional confidences preclude discussion. And of course, there likely are even more which were never reported to the police in the first place.

** "On Sunday; Pious Village Is No Stranger To the Police" by Michael Winerip, New York Times, 20 September 1992, Section 1, p. 41: Seems that those who disagree with the Kiryas Joel body politic political agenda are subject to assault on their person and vandalism of their property.

** "Hasidic Men Riot Over Visit of Rabbi," New York Times, 2 August 1995, Section B, p. 5: "Five police agencies quieted a rock- and egg-throwing riot of an estimated 1,000 Hasidic men, sparked by a dissident rabbi's visit this week. The Sunday night melee left one person injured and eight vehicles damaged and resulted in six arrests, the authorities said."

** "A Village Faces Another Kind Of Storm" by Evelyn Nieves, New York Times, 14 January 1996, Section 1, p. 27: "While the snow quieted New York City, this Satmar Hasidic village 50 miles away tallied another in a long line of violent episodes. Early Monday morning, the storm in full force, vandals broke a window in Joseph Waldman's Ford station wagon, threw in a flammable liquid and lit a match. Unfortunately, Mr. Waldman is getting used to it. This was his third car firebombed in the driveway in the last four months."

** "In the Ashes of Arson at Kiryas Joel, Tensions of Bitter Factionalism" by Robert Hanley, New York Times, 29 July 1996, Section B, p. 1: Arson is a crime of violence. Don't take my word for it, though; just ask a firefighter who has been injured while fighting an intentionally-set blaze (or the widow or orphan of a firefighter who died while doing so).

C. "The total number of victims was less then ten and they were mainly financial institutions and government agencies that were protected by insurance companies."

Notwithstanding my numerous gripes concerning the excesses of the insurance industry, insurance companies are entitled to the protection of this Country's laws, and are entitled to not have their funds pilfered by criminals. The fact that the insurance companies are the ultimate victims does not mitigate the crime.

Moreover, the "government agencies" included the IRS, which paid out falsely-claimed tax refunds.
Who really pays when insurance companies or the government are swindled? Who must make up for the loss? The ratepayers and the public, that's who. The total number of victims was far more than ten!

D. "As the legal challenge in the case was ongoing, the defendants paid back in full the 3.5 million dollars to the victims of the crime they were alleged to have committed."

Would the money have been paid back had there been no arrests, and no preservation of the evidence?

Of no less moment is the fact that uncharged offenses figured into the calculus of Samet's sentence. In other words, it wasn't just the $3.5 million. On pages 28, 34 and 64 of Samet's long song of excuses, much is made of Samet's generousity to charities. Specifically, on page 34, "At most, the evidence showed, only that most of the money alleged to have been part of the offense, went to charity." This presents two problems. Firstly, if the money is not kosher then it doesn't count for tzedaka (the Hebrew equivalent for "charity" and a word whose root is "tzedek" or justice). My own rabbi, for example, has been known to refuse donations of questionable provenance. The second problem is that if so much of the money swindled by Samet was given over to charity, then where did he get the 3.5 million to make the restitution? Again, it wasn't just the $3.5 million.

All of the above is just from the first page of the Introduction (save the references to pages 28, 34 and 64)! I shall spare you the trouble of reading the remainder of Samet's whining and pouting piece. He says that Judge McMahon is biased against him! He says that the FBI and other federal agencies are biased against him! He says that the evidence was spun in a negative light! He says that he was misunderstood! It's all everyone else's fault -- It's the fault of everyone except for Mordechai Samet!

The High Holy Days will soon be upon us. I ask forgiveness of all I may have wronged, and grant forgiveness to all who may have wronged me this past year.

And I hope that Mordechai Samet will take the step of acknowledging the wrongfulness of his own misdeeds, and accept the responsibility for them so that he, too, can begin the process of atonement.

L'Shanah Tovah Tikotevu!

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