A self-styled "Jewish Indiana Jones" who claimed he criss-crossed the globe rescuing Torahs is to face fraud charges after authorities said he duped benefactors by fabricating dramatic stories about sometimes dangerous trips. Court papers say that 50-year-old Menachem Youlus carried out the fraud from at least 2004 until last year, pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars through the "Save a Torah" charity he co-founded in 2004 as a not-for-profit organisation.
He is accused of passing off Torahs he bought from US dealers to synagogues and congregations nationwide, sometimes at inflated rates. It is alleged that he put nearly one-third of the $1.2m (£735,000) collected by the group into his personal accounts and on personal expenses. More than $1m was forwarded by the charity to the accounts of Mr Youlus's bookshop.
The publicly stated mission of the charity was to locate and acquire Torahs that survived the Holocaust. But investigators say there are no facts to support claims that Mr Youlus rescued an "Auschwitz Torah" in Poland in 2004 or discovered a Torah in 2002 that had been hidden during the Second World War at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
A review of travel records showed that Mr Youlus did not travel to Poland in 2004 and that he didn't travel internationally from early 2001 to August 2004, when he claimed to have made the trip to Germany. Mr Youlus's lawyer, Paul Rooney, said: "We deny this accusation, and anything else we have to say will be said in court."