Details of crimes by five of Poway rabbi’s conspirators
One of the conspirators is a Del Mar resident
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein from Congregation Chabad of Poway was the well-known person involved in a multi-million tax evasion and fraud scheme announced by the Department of Justice last week.
But Goldstein was not alone in submitting a guilty plea during the July 13 court proceedings. Five others among at least 20 discovered during the years-long investigation by the FBI and IRS submitted their guilty pleas last week too, officials said, including Del Mar resident Boris Shkoller.
Goldstein, Chabad’s former director who lost part of his hand during an anti-Semitic terrorist attack in April 2019, became well-known around the world. Following the shooting that killed one congregant and injured a couple others, he spoke at many gatherings around the world and met President Donald Trump at the White House.
While Goldstein spoke about community healing, law enforcement officials said he had been cooperating for several months with investigators, talking about his and co-conspirators’ schemes.
Goldstein and five associates admitted to their participation in the complex, years-long, multi-million dollar tax-evasion scheme. They gave Goldstein large donations to Chabad or other charitable groups associated with it. After receiving receipts so they could obtain large tax deductions, Goldstein returned 90 percent of the “donation” and kept 10 percent for himself, according to court documents.
Per Goldstein’s plea agreement, he received at least $6.2 million in phony contributions through the scam. Of this he kept more than $500,000 for himself, which led to tax losses to the IRS in excess of $1.5 million. His punishment — per the agreement — is to forfeit $1 million in proceeds and pay restitution of $2.5 million.
Goldstein also admitted to defrauding San Diego County courts by falsely certifying his co-conspirators and associates performed dozens to hundreds of community service hours and other volunteer work to fulfill sentencing requirements for criminal offenses. Also to fraudulently obtaining loans from banks and mortgage lending businesses by submitting false information in loan applications.
While the 58-year-old Poway resident could face up to five years in prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States and commit wire fraud, officials said they will likely not seek a prison sentence due to his cooperation and leadership in helping the community heal following the terrorist attack. His sentencing hearing is set for Oct. 19 in U.S. District Court.
Here are some details on the five who also plead guilty last week:
• Del Mar resident Boris Shkoller, 83, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and faces up to three years in prison.
Shkoller admitted that from 2015 to 2016, he “donated” $122,000 to Chabad and secretly received $109,800 back from Goldstein through the use of Avergoon as a conduit for the payments, kickbacks and fraudulent donation receipt letters. Shkoller admitted to filing fraudulent tax returns for both years, resulting in tax losses to the IRS of more than $36,000.
He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 19 and has agreed to pay $53,772 in restitution to the IRS for his tax underpayment, penalties and interest.
• Poway resident Yousef Shemirani, 74, plead guilty to filing a false tax return. His maximum penalty is three years in prison. Per officials, Shemirani admitted in his plea agreement that he participated in the tax scheme from 2011 to 2016. It included pretending to donate $137,650 to Goldstein and Chabad of Poway. Goldstein kept about $13,765 (10 percent) and returned the rest to Shemirani, mostly in cash. Their scheme meant a tax loss to the IRS of more than $39,000.
Officials said Goldstein alerted Shemirani to the investigation in October 2018 and “that the next time they saw each other, Goldstein might be ‘wearing a wire,’” per the DOJ press release. “Shemirani understood this was a warning, and he took steps to amend his fraudulent tax returns in response.”
Shemirani entered a guilty plea and is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 19. Officials said he has agreed to make full restitution to the IRS, including all unpaid taxes, penalties (including a 75 percent fraud penalty) and interest.
• San Diego resident Alexander Avergoon, 44, faces the most charges and penalties announced thus far. These include 20 years in prison for wire fraud, two years for aggravated identity theft and 20 years for money laundering.
Per the DOJ, Avergoon admitted to recruiting at least nine taxpayers from 2010 to 2015 who made more than $275,000 in fraudulent “donations” to Chabad. They used Avergoon as a conduit to secretly get back 90 percent of their money.
Avergoon also admitted to participating in a grant fraud scheme with Goldstein in which they obtained at least $875,000 in misappropriated grant funds from various agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They created and submitted fake and backdated invoices for repair services never completed. They also claimed government grant funds would be used for facilities upgrades, security systems and community programs, but instead kept the money. Both have agreed to pay restitution and reimburse the grant programs.
In a separate scheme not associated with Goldstein, Avergoon — a San Diego-based real estate agent — admitted to participating in real estate Ponzi schemes from 2010 to 2016, in which he cheated retirement investors out of a combined $12 million. He reportedly used a number of tactics, including creating fake partnership agreements, false purchase documents and deeds, other fictitious records, and forging the signatures of his investors.
He also made fake loan agreements, Deeds of Trust, mortgage Notes and other official-looking documents. DOJ officials said Avergoon even created fake notary stamps and San Diego County Recorder’s Office markings to make paperwork appear legitimate.
After Avergoon was indicted in August 2019 and apprehended in Latvia, he was extradited to the United States and has remained in custody. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 19.
• La Jolla resident Bruce Baker, 74, plead guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and file false tax returns. He faces up to five years in prison.
Per the DOJ, Baker pleaded guilty to conspiring with Goldstein to defraud the IRS and file false tax returns going back to the mid-1980s. Baker admitted to using fabricated records from Goldstein for 30 years to fraudulently reduce his tax liabilities. This was done by pretending he was eligible for tax deductions for millions of dollars in nonexistent “gifts to charity” he reportedly made to Chabad. Goldstein secretly returned 90 percent to Baker and kept 10 percent.
Their scheme was very complex because Goldstein paid Baker’s creditors or made large purchases on his behalf, gave money to Baker’s relatives or paid other bills, including more than $420,000 for Baker’s son’s dental school tuition, fees and post-doctoral dentistry residency. This was done instead of Goldstein just returning the money to Baker.
Baker admitted he “donated” at least $2.6 million to Chabad of Poway, but got back at least $2.4 million in various ways. Their scheme cost the IRS around $644,000 in tax losses, officials said.
Separate from his dealings with Goldstein, Baker admitted to engaging in a similar tax evasion scheme with the director of a separate religious congregation and community organization in San Diego. The fake “in-kind” donations totalling $1.2 million meant Baker and his family received fake paperwork to claim exorbitant tax deductions.
Baker is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 19 and has agreed to make full restitution to the IRS, including all unpaid taxes, penalties and interest.
• San Diego resident Bijan Moossazadeh, 63, plead guilty to filing a false tax return and faces up to three years in prison. His tax evasion scheme with Goldstein occurred between 2012 and 2018 when Moossazadeh pretended to “donate” around $290,000 to Chabad for charitable purposes. Instead, Goldstein secretly funneled back 90 percent to Moossazadeh and gave him fraudulent donation receipt letters to claim he gave charitable gifts so he could reduce his tax liability by more than $91,500.
When Moossazadeh learned in October 2018 that Goldstein was under investigation, DOJ officials said he did not attempt to deduct any of his 2018 purported donations to Chabad. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 19 and has agreed to make full restitution to the IRS including all unpaid taxes, penalties (including a 75 percent fraud penalty) and interest.
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