From Russia With Sleaze

The most interesting aspect of the three cashier's checks written by Troyanovsky for the rabbi's home down payment is that two of them were drawn from the accounts of men who don't live in America, Anatoli Liakh and Vitali Rodomanov. Liakh and Rodomanov happen to work for a railroad company in Ukraine called DVM. And DVM happens to be Sam Budovsky's partner in U.S. Dnipro, the firm that collected that Varna shipyard debt.

What these oblique connections mean, exactly, would be difficult to say, given that none of the investigations of the JEC has focused specifically on them. At the very least, it seems the Pils were closer to ex-Soviet heavy industry than the ordinary observer might have imagined.

Keep in mind that most of this evidence has gone unreported in the press, because none of the cases involving the JEC and Pil has gone to trial. The Pils have settled and plea-bargained; they've admitted to nothing, except the federal structuring charge entered against the rabbi. Leader-Picone amassed his evidence in a partial claim on the Pils' house in bankruptcy court (as a JEC asset), but that case, too, ended in a settlement. The Pils kept the house, but were to pay $200,000 to the JEC bankruptcy estate.

None of the investigators has fully untangled the financial records for the Jewish Educational Center, and there is no way I can tell for sure who got the millions of dollars that flowed into the charity, courtesy of a barrage of donated cars.

But one clear pattern is obvious: State and local authorities have gone soft on the JEC from the start. In the mid-'90s, the JEC went unregistered as a charity in New York and New Jersey, meaning the radio ads and billboards were probably technically illegal. The charity even lost tax-exempt status for a while in California. The Pils nevertheless accepted and sold used cars with no interference from any state attorney general until after the Wall Street Journal piece in 1996.

And now, in spite of a reasonable amount of evidence that at least suggests the Pils, Troyanovsky, and Budovsky engaged in diversion of money from a charity to private hands, the only punishment being meted out is a possible 18 to 24 months for the improper reporting of some $1.7 million in bank deposits by a man who, 10 years ago, was a poor, Uzbekistan-born cleric trying to feed his kids in America.

Of course, the role of Troyanovsky and Budovsky in the JEC operation could be fully investigated. Then again, Belinda Johns, the deputy state attorney general formerly on the case, could have learned more about the JEC's money flow; District Attorney Terence Hallinan's office could have pursued its civil case and allegations of false advertising much more vigorously; Ross Nadel, the assistant U.S. attorney heading the criminal case against Pil, could have tried to prove more serious charges, instead of accepting a plea bargain on a lone, technical charge related to the filling out of forms.

All the government attorneys involved cite the saving of public resources as a reason for not pressing forward with more thorough investigations, but the stink of corruption that seems to envelop the JEC saga makes it hard to watch such a weak denouement.

In the end, the rabbi may not even get prison time. His lawyers are expected to argue this summer for probation, and it would be nice to see them lose.

Michael Scott Moore ( can be reached atSF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco, CA 94107.

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