Cantor is sentenced to home detention for tax evasion, fraud

Congregation accepts apology and forgives him

January 07, 2000|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

The cantor for an Upper Park Heights synagogue was sentenced yesterday to six months of home detention for not paying his taxes and filing a false insurance claim -- acts he said he committed because of severe financial hardships.

Benzion Weiss, 44, will continue to serve as the cantor for Beth Jacob Congregation. Several congregation members spoke in support of him at a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and said they have forgiven him.

"He publicly apologized to the entire congregation," said Dr. Gavriel Newman, the rabbi of Beth Jacob. "He asked for forgiveness and it has been granted. He is a highly, highly respected figure in this congregation and he has done tremendous good for a countless multitude."

Weiss, who will be able to leave his home only to engage in his cantorial duties, pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion and one count of mail fraud. He admitted as part of the plea agreement that he did not pay his taxes in 1994 and that he had submitted a $60,000 false insurance claim in May 1997 to CNA Insurance Cos. of Glens Falls, N.Y.

According to a statement of facts presented in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia B. Evans, Weiss evaded payment of taxes on $46,402 in income that was falsely classified as "parsonage" between 1993 and 1996.

On the fraud count, Weiss admitted mailing a false insurance claim saying that jewelry, wigs and a religious item had been stolen from his car while it was parked in Brooklyn, N.Y. The break-in had occurred but only a car phone had been stolen.

The insurance company discovered the false claim and refused to pay it. Both the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service began an investigation.

In his apology to the congregation, Weiss said his errors occurred during a time of "terrible financial pressures" while he was trying to raise four children and put them through private Jewish day schools, Newman said. Also, Weiss' father was extremely ill in his home country of Israel, Newman said.

Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Weiss to three years' probation and ordered him placed on electronic home monitoring. Newman said Weiss will continue in his role as cantor of the congregation, which has about 650 families and is in the 5700 block of Park Heights Ave.

"We want him to go on with pride and with confidence," Newman said. "There should be life after sin and after repentance. People are supposed to be able to make amends, and given the tools to rebuild their lives."

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