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Former La Jolla Synagogue Head Pleads Guilty to Embezzling $395K

Eric S. Levine pleaded guilty to using Congregation Beth El's bank accounts and credit cards for luxury vacations and more.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.

A former executive director of a La Jolla synagogue was in line Tuesday for a potential decades-long prison sentence following his admission to embezzling about $394,900 from the institution.

Eric S. Levine, 36, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in San Diego to using Congregation Beth El's bank accounts and credit card for his own purposes -- including luxury vacations, home furnishings and entertainment -- over the course of nearly six years, starting in February 2008.

In his role as overseer of the temple's budget, Levine was able to control Beth El's bank account and credit card and often simply used the money to directly pay his own bills, according to prosecutors.

Other times, he transferred balances from his personal credit card to the congregation's credit account, and then paid his balances with the Beth El funds.

Levine conceded that he schemed to fool the congregation, its bookkeepers, and its executive staff by falsifying their records. 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," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego.

Instead of going toward legitimate expenses, the funds were used to pay a variety of Levine's personal credit charges, expenses from 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; a gym membership; regular $1,400 charges for a personal trainer; and event tickets from StubHub.

Levine also used the embezzled money to outfit his home with expensive leather furniture and barbecue equipment, to buy fancy jewelry, to send his children to private school and to book exclusive Disney vacations.

Levine pleaded guilty to a mail-fraud count that carries a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in custody and a $250,000 fine. He also will be required to repay Congregation Beth El the funds he stole, prosecutors said.

His sentencing and restitution hearing is scheduled for June 27.

—City News Service

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