Baltimore resident and Wheaton Judaic book store owner Rabbi Menachem Youlus – the once-heralded “Indiana Jones” recoverer and restorer of what he said were pre-World War II European Torah scrolls– was arrested on Wednesday, August 24 by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Youlus, who surrendered himself Wednesday morning, appeared in federal court in Manhattan in the afternoon and was released on $100,000 bond, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. The bonds must be “fully secured” within one week “by two financial responsible persons.” Also,Youlus’s travel will be restricted to New York state’s Southern and Eastern Districts as well as the district of Maryland. He also must surrender all travel documents. He is charged with one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, twice the gross gain to him or twice the gross loss to others – which ever is greater.
In announcing the arrest through a press release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection service Ronald J. Verrochio, described Youlus and his Save A Torah, Inc., as an operation “which purported to `rescue’ Torah scrolls lost or hidden during the Holocaust, for allegedly defrauding the charity and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

They continued that Youlus “fabricated detailed accounts of having found Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust in Europe, including in Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and in other places around the world. He then used those false accounts as a platform for soliciting contributions to Save a Torah, Inc., some of which he embezzled by diverting them directly into his personal bank accounts. In other instances, Youlus allegedly submitted inflated and doctored invoices to Save a Torah to increase the amount he was reimbursed by the charity for the ‘rescued’ Torahs, which, in at least some instances, he had simply purchased from other Torah dealers.‬”

After complaints that attracted national attention, in July 2011 Youlus signed an agreement with the Maryland Secretary of State that he and SATI would “take all reasonable steps necessary” to authenticate the history of the scrolls they sold as well as document their purchase from independent sources.

Rabbi Youlus’s captivating tales to children and adults alike are well-known in the region and he has both adamant supporters and detractors.
At least four area congregations—Beth El, Chevrei Tzedek, Chizuk Amuno and Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah—own Torahs purchased from Rabbi Youlus.
The situation gained national attention after an extensive Jan. 31, 2010 profile on Rabbi Youlus in The Washington Post Magazine cover story that repeatedly questioned his tales of Torah rescues.

At that point, Menachem Z. Rosensaft, the New York-based Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, wrote to the Maryland Secretary of State asking for an investigation into possible fraud.

Among the stories in question was the claim of finding a Torah under the floorboards of a barracks at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Rosensaft’s own research revealed that occupying British troops burned the structures to the ground in May 1945 to contain a typhus epidemic. Rosensaft said today, “As far as Youlus is concerned, he has been exposed as a charlatan and others who might be inclined to follow his lead have been given fair warning that they will not be allowed to get away with it. We have done what needed to be done and this particular episode can be put to a rest but for the penalty the court imposes on him.”

As a result of the Maryland investigation, SATI’s website, http://www.saveatorah.org/ as of today still carried a July 2010 cover note by SATI Presiden Rick Zitelman with a summary of the organization’s internal investigation into the claims. SATI reported that two independent soferim or Torah scribes—Rabbi Yitzchok Reisman and Itzhak Winer—examined 11 Torah scrolls together on Feb. 17, 2010.

SATI President Rick Zitelman wrote, “the two “confirmed what we have always known: Rabbi Menachem Youlus is an expert sofer who has restored numerous Torahs to the highest of standards, often at his own expense.” In addition, he wrote, “The soferim found no evidence to contradict any information provided by RabbiYoulus to the purchasers of his Torahs. All of the Torahs examined by the soferim were found to be written in pre-Holocaust years in Eastern Europe, as Rabbi Youlus had determined.”
A message was left Wednesday afternoon for Rabbi Youlus’s Jewish Book Store of Greater Washington. Upon being asked when the rabbi would return, a worker who did not identify himself said, “Tomorrow I suppose.”