(JTA) – A Boston-area rabbi pleaded not guilty to charges that he stole from his temple to pay off a man who was blackmailing him for an alleged affair with a teenage male.
Rabbi Barry Starr, 65, who resigned last year from Temple Israel in Sharon, Massachusetts, entered the plea Tuesday in Norfolk Superior Court, the Boston Globe reported. Several former congregants were in the courtroom to support him, according to the newspaper.
Starr is charged with embezzlement and larceny over $250. He is facing a maximum sentence of 15 years in state prison.
The rabbi allegedly paid a total of $458,300 between 2012 and 2014 – more than $360,000 of that from his discretionary fund – according to prosecutors. He also is accused of altering donated checks for up to 100 times their value and borrowing thousands of dollars from an elderly congregant, a Holocaust survivor.
Starr replenished the fund with money he received from performing rabbinic duties such as funerals, according to prosecutors. He owed $67,000 to the discretionary fund at the end of the period of the blackmail.
Prosecutors said that many of the allegations by blackmailer Nicholas Zemeitus, 30, who claimed to be the older brother of the teen in the alleged affair, appear to be false.
“There has never been a single incident of child pornography or allegations, other than those made by [Zemeitus], of Starr having sex with an underage minor,” the prosecutors wrote in a statement to the court.
Zemeitus reportedly met the rabbi on Craigslist. He then met Starr at his home and made the allegations following an exchange of emails.
Starr, a married father of two, is credited with expanding the congregation he served for 28 years to over 600 families. He has served on the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Theological Seminary and as president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, as well as the region’s Rabbinical Assembly.