La Jolla, California - Today, United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced the arraignment and guilty plea of Eric S. Levine for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from La Jolla’s Congregation Beth El synagogue.
Levine served as Beth El’s executive director from July 2007 to December 2013, overseeing the synagogue’s annual budget of nearly $2 million. Importantly, he also had access to and control over Beth El’s bank accounts, credit card accounts, and bookkeeping records. Levine admitted today that starting in February 2008, he began embezzling money from the synagogue for his own use. He continued his thefts until he left the position in December 2013. In total, Levine admitted misappropriating $394,872.99 from the synagogue over those five years.
Levine was able to carry out his embezzlement by virtue of his control over Beth El’s bank account and credit card. On most occasions, he simply used money located in the congregation’s bank account to pay his own bills directly. On other occasions, he transferred balances from his personal credit card to the congregation’s credit card account and then paid his balances with the congregation’s funds.
In order to fool the congregation, its bookkeepers, and its executive staff, Levine falsified Beth El’s books and records to cover up his ongoing theft. He hid thousands of dollars in payments to himself by creating entries for legitimate expenses of the synagogue, in categories such as “Ritual Fund,” “Rabbi Emeritus,” “High Holidays,” “Purim Baskets,” “janitorial expense,” “utilities,” “landscaping expense,” and “repair/replace reserve fund.” His mischaracterization of payments made it appear that more of Beth El’s funds were spent on legitimate synagogue expenses than was actually spent. Levine also prepared false financial reports and annual budget proposals based on these inflated figures.
Instead of these legitimate expenses, the funds were used to pay a variety of Levine’s credit card charges, which included the following: trips to Mexico, Las Vegas, and Canada; stays at the Mandalay Bay and Bally’s in Las Vegas, the Hilton Waikiki, the Grand Mayan Los Cabos, and La Costa Resort Spa; monthly membership and regular $1,400 charges for a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness; and tickets from StubHub. Levine was able to outfit his home with expensive leather furniture and BBQ equipment, buy fancy jewelry, send his children to private school, and purchase exclusive Disney vacations.
As part of his plea, Levine will be required to pay Congregation Beth El back the funds he stole. He will next appear in court on June 27, 2014, at 9 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw for sentencing as well as a hearing to determine the amount of restitution.
Defendant in Criminal Case No. 14CR0879-DMS
Eric S. Levine, 36
Mail fraud, Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341
Maximum penalties: 20 years in custody; $250,000 fine; three years of supervised release; mandatory order of restitution to victims
Federal Bureau of Investigation