Blackmailed Boston-area rabbi will avoid jail time for embezzlement

(JTA) – A Boston-area court has dismissed a larceny charge against the former rabbi of a synagogue in Boston who dipped into synagogue funds to pay off a blackmailer.

The Norfolk County Superior Court on Friday also agreed to a continuance of an embezzlement charge against Rabbi Barry Starr, which would lead to the charge being dropped and no jail time if he is not charged with any other crimes in the meantime. He had faced up to 15 years in prison.

Starr, 66, resigned in 2014 from Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts, when the missing money came to light. He has served as its spiritual leader for 28 years.

Nicholas Zemeitus, who is from the Boston area, had threatened to expose what the blackmailer said was a two-year affair by the rabbi with a 16-year-old male. Zemeitus, who pleaded guilty to extortion and larceny for blackmailing Starr, was sentenced in December to up to five years in prison and three years of probation. He claimed to be the older brother of the boy.

Prosecutors said they never found any evidence to support Zemeitus’s allegations, and do not believe that Starr met with minors. Still, Starr attempted to prevent the exposure of marital infidelity and his relationships with men.

When Starr stopped paying Zemeitus, he broke into the rabbi’s office and stole donation checks from congregants and altered them to reflect larger amounts before depositing them, leading to the exposure of Starr’s theft.

Starr tried to pay back the more than $360,000 he took from the synagogue’s “rabbi’s discretionary fund” to pay the blackmailer off, but he was still short by about $67,000 when he stopped paying him in 2014. The synagogue is not pushing for full restitution or for jail time for the rabbi, prosecutors said, according to the Boston Globe.

He reportedly is now driving a cab in a Cleveland suburb. He and his wife have divorced, he is estranged from his daughter and has little contact with his son, the local Sharon newspaper The Patriot Ledger reported.

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