Gambling British haredim blamed for spate of burglaries

Gambling debts among haredi Orthodox British Jews spurred a spate of burglaries in Jewish homes and institutions, The Jewish Chronicle reported.

The London-based newspaper quoted Police Det. Allen Windsor as saying that “there have been a large number of burglaries at Jewish properties for a long time, but recently we have identified members of the Jewish community carrying out burglaries at communal buildings.”

On Thursday, the Chronicle reported that a recent break-in at the city’s Beth Shmuel Synagogue was attributable to gambling debts. Police arrested three Jewish suspects aged 17 to 19, and they admitted to breaking and entering the synagogue and taking keys to a car parked nearby.

Other incidents included the theft of a car and the robbery last year at the home of a Jewish charity director.  The alleged car thief is said to have been planning to use the proceeds to feed his gambling addiction, while the alleged burglar owed $48,000 to an Israeli gang, the paper said.

The Chronicle also reported that a 23-year-old London Jewish man will stand trial next month after denying four charges of burgling a Jewish primary school.

Rabbi Chanan Tomlin of the United Kingdom's Kids Trust charity said there was a “significant” gambling problem among strictly Orthodox communities in Manchester.

“Poker is a problem among yeshiva students,” he said. “There is a poker culture among these young Jews. Some of them are going to casinos and some are addicted to scratch cards.”

Israeli businessman sentenced to 22 years for fraud

An Israeli businessman convicted of a $30 million investment fraud was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco also ordered Samuel Cohen, 53, to repay the millions he had stolen. Cohen was convicted last November on charges of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion.

His scheme caused the collapse of the Vanguard Public Foundation, a charity with ties to actors Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte.

Cohen reportedly told investors that his company, Ecast, which provided digital music, games and interactive ads to bars and nightclubs, was about to be acquired by Microsoft Corp. The scheme was discovered in 2008.

He gave some of his money to Jewish charitable funds including the European Center for Jewish Students; a Jewish orphanage in Odessa; the tomb of the second Lubavitcher rebbe in Ukraine; and to build a museum in Hebron to preserve Chabad history.

Cohen’s attorneys said they would appeal the conviction.

‘Europa’ docupic tracks Nazi looting and the fate of art masterworks

The Nazi regime was not only the world’s greatest murderer, but the biggest thief as well. High on the list of loot were Europe’s master paintings and sculptures, with failed artist Adolf Hitler and his avaricious henchman, Hermann Goering, personally spearheading the plunder.

More than 60 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the fallout from the great Nazi robbery is continuing, with thousands of art works still missing or sought by their original, largely Jewish, owners.

The story, as meticulously tracked in the two-hour documentary, “The Rape of Europa,” is complex, but even those unenthused by visits to galleries or museums will find the plotline riveting.

Numbers alone don’t tell the story, but they are staggering. In total, the Nazis seized some 600,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures and Judaica artifacts during their 12-year reign, according to historian Jonathan Petropoulos of Claremont McKenna College, one the top experts on the subject.

As one small example, a detachment of the U.S. Army’s “Monuments Men” found 6,500 paintings and sculptures in one Bavarian salt mine alone and sent them to a collection point, which held 27 Rembrandt paintings.

Petropoulos said in an interview that up to 100,000 looted artworks might still be missing; some were destroyed but others may not be rediscovered for generations.

Hitler’s obsession with art was as monumental, and as fervently anti-Semitic, as his other manias. As a struggling young artist, Hitler was twice rejected for admission to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. The film’s narrator ponders how the course of history might have been changed if Hitler had not been turned down by the academy’s heavily Jewish faculty.

Hitler’s revenge fantasy included the construction of a grandiose Fuehrer Museum in his hometown of Linz to house the greatest of his looted artworks. Up until his last hours in his Berlin bunker, Hitler reworked his delusional plans for the museum.

Following their leader’s example, his top honchos became avid art collectors, none more so than Goering, Hitler’s chief deputy and commander of the German air force. At the height of the Battle of Britain, which Goering promised would bring England to its knees through ferocious air raids, the corpulent field marshal found time to visit Paris 20 times and select paintings from Jewish homes and art dealers.

During the course of wartime battles and air raids, some of the great architectural landmarks of Europe were damaged or destroyed. In the fighting in Italy for Pisa, for instance, the Leaning Tower was spared, but the famed frescoes of the Campo Santo were heavily damaged.

As Nazi armies retreated, they vented their fury by blowing up Florence’s 13th century bridges and trashing the homes of Tchaikovsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy in Russia.

“Rape of Europa” opens and closes with shots of Maria Altmann, the 91-year-old Cheviot Hills resident who battled the Austrian and American governments for seven years to recover five paintings by Gustav Klimt taken from her Viennese family and valued at $300 million.

In one of the landmark cases in the history of looted art, E. Randol Schoenberg, Altmann’s lawyer, took the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.

The film is the work of three San Francisco-based veterans of PBS documentaries, Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen and Nicole Newnham. Cohen is also the founder of Actual Films, which produced “Rape of Europa,” and she and her colleagues worked seven years on the documentary, basing it on Lynn H. Nicholas’ book of the same title.

The filmmakers have crammed a remarkable amount of information and historical context into their work, enlivened by vintage footage of Hitler and other Nazi art connoisseurs and the work of Allied recovery teams.

Among the most vivid images is a ghost-like Louvre in Paris in 1939, emptied of its 35,000 works of art in advance of the German onslaught. Another is the picture of cheering Florentines lining the streets to welcome the return, on U.S. Army trucks, of the city’s looted paintings.

The saga is not over yet. Many paintings will likely never be recovered, and the tedious work of returning others to their original owners is still continuing.

Schoenberg told The Journal that he is now involved in a suit by the descendants of a Dutch Jewish family to recover two life-size painting of “Adam and Eve” by the 15th century German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder from the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

“The Rape of Europa” opens Sept. 28 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, Town Center 5 in Encino and Claremont 5 in Claremont.

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Identity Theft

How did I find myself at the Beverly Hills Police Department, eating an apple and crying?

It’s a long story. One I’m placing for now in my "Only in Los Angeles" file. Or perhaps it belongs in my "pending criminal cases" file.

It began, as few good crime stories do, at Kinko’s, where I left my driver’s license as collateral to do some color copying. Weeks later, I realized I had never retrieved it. Kinko’s no longer had it. I replaced the thing and thought nothing of it until a store I had never heard of accused me of using a bogus credit card to charge $3,000 worth of clothing.

A handwritten letter from the Melrose boutique threatened to report me and "take my kids away." I was confused. I have no children and had never been to the store. When I called, I found out that a woman came in with some kids, my driver’s license, a bogus story about using her dad’s credit-card number and a penchant for shopping. She stiffed the store for $3,000.

I called the cops, reported the identity theft, alerted the major credit-checking companies and assumed this was a one-time thing. I went along my merry way, committing a little crime I like to call voluntary denial.

Months later, I was bathing, listening to NPR and staring out at the moon through my bathroom window. A man came banging at my door. He screamed my name — or some version of my name known as Teri Susan Strasser — and demanded I open the door.

"You know who you are. Open the door, Teri!" he screamed. No one calls me Teri. Stalking and threatening me at my door late at night is one thing, but felony use of an irritating nickname is really a crime. Grand theft, dignity.

"Consider yourself served," he stage-whispered, flinging a subpoena through my mail slot and running through my front yard, flashlight in hand.

According to the document, I was being sued for nonpayment by a Beverly Hills doctor I had never met. I looked up the doctor on the Internet, paged him, and found out my identity-stealer had gotten cosmetic surgery as yours truly. So interesting was the case, the doctor had been approached by the show "Power of Attorney" to try the case on television.

I had to appear at the doctor’s office, display my face to prove he had never seen me and convince him to drop the case. He did so, and showed me a copy of my old driver’s license and the paperwork "I" had filled out, signed Teri Susan Strasser. It was creepy. She had used my address, a phony Social Security number and some credit card from Texas.

Then, it was off to the Beverly Hills cops to report the incident. I don’t even want to be me, I thought, quietly crying and eating an apple. Why would someone steal my identity?

They sent me to the Hollywood precinct, where a shoeless blond woman clutching a half-empty bottle of water squinted at me and asked, "Do you feel like you’re in a movie?"

I did, I suppose. A harried woman next to me was getting her zillionth restraining order and adding it to a thick file. I strained to overhear her story, which seemed far more interesting than mine.

As I explained the plastic-surgery incident to the desk cop — an officer with the eerie, unpleasant habit of smiling nonstop despite the lack of anything particularly funny — the shoeless woman shouted, "I’d give anything for a toothbrush!"

The officer said there was nothing more I could do.

It strikes me now that I’m jealous of my identity; my identity is living a better life than I am. My identity is out there living "La Vida Loca," shopping, nipping, tucking, getting a peel. She gets to be me without all the baggage or bills. She gets to be two-dimensional me, a piece of plastic with trouble and neuroses you could never detect from a photo. She’s just a toothy smile with decent credit.

I don’t know when she’ll strike next. I half expect a postcard from the Bahamas.

Teri, the weather’s great, wish you were here. Well, in a way, you are!

All the best,

Your identity

Being me has always had its ups and downs, and I’ve never thought there was anything so great about it. At this point, however, I just wish no one else was doing it.

Teri, you may not know it, but you are having a great time in Paris! Someone else’s driver’s license: it’s everywhere you want to be.

Your friend,