By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – Real-estate entrepreneur Menachem Yosef Levitin of New Haven last week pleaded guilty in a mortgage fraud case under federal investigation for nearly two years, it was reported by the New Haven Register and the New Haven Independent.
Levitin admitted in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport on July 5 to committing mail fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud. When he is sentenced in September, he faces up
to 30 years in prison and $20 million in fines for helping arrange to bilk lenders out of $10 million on some 50 properties in blighted sections of New Haven.
Levitin has owned and operated several companies, among them New Haven Capital Investment, LLC, Levitin Management, LLC, Prestige Realty, LLC, Parnosa LLC, Shemesh LLC, and Solo Investments LLC.
The 27-year old Levitin is the son of Rabbi Berl and Feiga Levitin, who were sent to New Haven by the Lubavitcher Rebbe some 25 years ago, and started a daily prayer and study group for the Russian Jews immigrating to the area a few years later. The couple also founded and manage a New Haven-based charitable organization that works with Jewish elderly in the community.
Levitin is included among the donors listed on Chabad of the Shoreline’s “Scroll of Honor.”
Also involved in the 15-member fraud ring is attorney Rabbi David Avigdor, 58, who has served as spiritual leader of Congregation Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim in the Westville section of New Haven for 32 years. In March, Avigdor pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on a mortgage form. Two months later, he suffered a stroke. In a plea deal struck last month, Avigdor agreed to surrender his law license for one year and pay $20,000 in restitution. He also was sentenced to three years’ probation.
According to the New Haven Independent report, the members of the ring made money by falsely inflating the price of homes, paying “straw buyers” to take out mortgages using trumped-up income and employment records, using the mortgage money to buy the homes for their actual prices, then pocketing the difference and walking away.
Avigdor acted as the settlement agent for some of these transactions. While he admitted in court to deceit in one sale, he claimed that he was not aware of the extent of the scheme and that he was unwittingly drawn into fraudulent transactions by Morris Olmer. A former Alderman, state lawmaker, and attorney, Olmer had been disbarred for alleged wrongdoing when the two men first met in 2007. Avigdor shared office space with Olmer, who was among those arrested. Despite having his law license suspended in 2007, Olmer is alleged to have participated in the scheme, pretending to be a licensed attorney.
Avigdor continues to maintain his innocence, saying that it was never his intention participate in any misdeeds. Though they declined to be quoted, several Jewish community leaders from the greater New Haven area were convinced that Avigdor could not have knowingly participated in any such fraudulent scheme and was himself “duped,” as one leader characterized it. Avigdor, they stressed, has done much good in the community and has been both respected and loved for decades. “In all that time he has never displayed any inclination to do anything improper. It’s hard to believe he would do so now,” said one leader.
The Ledger honored Avigdor as a “Mover and Shaker” in 2005 on the occasion of his 25th year at the pulpit. The descendant of a long line of rabbis, he traces his ancestry back to Shifatyah, the fifth son of King David. He is the son of Isaac Avigdor, the renowned rabbi who led United Synagogues of Greater Hartford for many years, and the grandson of Rabbi Yaacov Avigdor, also known as the Drohobyczer Rav. The father of six with his wife, Susanne, Avigdor also serves as cantor, mohel, and kosher butcher, and is the founder of the Mizmor L’Dovid Jewish Boys Choir in New Haven.