Jewish Billionaire Sues Prominent US Rabbi
Energy industrialist and billionaire Guma Aguiar has filed a suit in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court against prominent U.S. Rabbi Leib Tropper claiming that he misallocated funds intended for institutions and poor people in Israel. Rabbi Tropper's American attorney, Glenn Waldman, told Israel National News that his client categorically denies the charges.
The first public signs of the dispute with Rabbi Tropper were published on September 8th on the Haaretz website. Rabbi Tropper, who serves as Dean of Kol Yaakov Torah Center, Chairman of the Rabbinic Committee of the Eternal Jewish Family organization, and Director of Horizons (all based in Monsey, New York) accused Aguiar of assaulting him in the David Citadel Hotel and threatening to throw him out the window.
Aguiar denies the assault allegations. He says he came to the hotel to confront the rabbi with one question: "Where are the millions of dollars which I gave to you to distribute?"
Rabbi Tropper filed a complaint with the Jerusalem police which led to an investigation, but the police later closed the probe. However, Jerusalem Police Spokesman Shmuel Ben-Rubi confirmed to Israel National News that the investigation against Aguiar was reopened several weeks ago in the wake of an appeal by Rabbi Tropper.
Once a Warm Relationship
The two men were once very close. Aguiar was introduced to Rabbi Tropper by Aguiar's uncle and business partner, Thomas S. Kaplan. Aguiar and Kaplan became co-founders and co-chairmen of Rabbi Tropper's Eternal Jewish Family organization. However, due to a serious financial falling out between Aguiar and his uncle, the latter is now the sole chairman.
Through their natural gas-exploration company Leor Energy, co-founders Aguiar and Kaplan discovered trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in Robertson County, Texas and ultimately sold their holdings in November 2007 for $2.55 billion.
Aguiar's newfound material wealth had a spiritual parallel. Born in Brazil to a Jewish mother who later converted to Christianity, Aguiar was raised a devout Evangelical Christian. At the age of 26, he chanced upon the Outreach Judaism website, which encourages Jews who believe in Jesus to return to the Jewish faith. He phoned the website founder Rabbi Tovia Singer to challenge him, but after several conversations, Aguiar abandoned the church and accepted authentic Torah Judaism as his spiritual compass.
He introduced his siblings, mother and late father to Rabbi Singer's 26-part systematic review of Judaism's response to Christian missionaries, eventually bringing them all back to Judaism.
Aguiar became passionate about supporting Torah study and assisting great rabbis. He says that Rabbi Tropper, who was a longtime close confident of his uncle, became his window to the Jewish rabbinic world.
Being a complete rookie to the Torah world, Aguiar says he asked Rabbi Tropper to help him compile lists of great rabbis to support. "I have a book called Gedolim of Israel," Aguiar says, "which has portraits of the Torah leaders of Israel. I used to read this book, and I took note of the Rabbis that I wanted to support from different communities. Partially due to Tropper's rabbinic past, I started off with supporting a very religious, hareidi group, which was also the focus of the book."
But later Aguiar says he asked Rabbi Tropper to widen the scope to include religious-Zionist rabbis, those from the Sephardic community, as well as Chabad and other Chassidic groups. Aguiar was in pursuit of a dream:
"I wanted to unite the rabbis and bring them all together for a conference. I thought that if I supported the various groups then I would have the clout to be able to encourage them to get together and be more united rather than having all these various different factions. That was my original goal, and that's why I came up with such a diverse group of rabbis to support."
For example, when Aguiar's daughter was born at the end of 2007, he wanted to express his and his wife's thanks to G-d by donating $36,000 to each of 36 rabbis. He says he turned to his uncle's close confidante Rabbi Leib Tropper to formulate a list of 36 beneficiaries. Aguiar says that he approved the list and wired the funds to Rabbi Tropper for distribution, but that the money didn't reach all the rabbis.
According to an email in Aguiar's inbox dated December 10, 2007 with the subject "36 names," Mrs. Shain, a secretary at Rabbi Tropper's Horizons organization, writes to Aguiar:
"The following are the 36 rabbis Rabbi Tropper reviewed - most of them with you. The ones in bold have not ever received checks from us. All the rabbis that I didn't note their place of origin are from Israel… I will catch up with the other lists tomorrow."
The email was sent from Mrs. Shain's Horizon's address to Aguiar's address with a cc to Rabbi Leib Tropper.
Photo: The email from Mrs. Shain listing 36 rabbis.
Email addresses are blurred to protect privacy.
Regarding the list, Aguiar says, "I didn't know these particular rabbis. He [Rabbi Tropper] did, or he said he did. The fraud committed by Tropper is currently being investigated by authorities in the United States." Aguiar is referring to Rabbi Tropper's part in a multi-billion dollar law-suit in which Aguiar faces off with several parties including his uncle and aunt Thomas S. Kaplan and Daphne Recanati Kaplan. Rabbi Tropper is scheduled to be deposed in that trial later this month.
Before Aguiar began to suspect that his donations were not reaching the designated beneficiaries, Aguiar continued to work with Rabbi Tropper to widen the scope of beneficiaries to rabbis from other camps. Aguiar says that Rabbi Tropper claimed to consult with rabbis from a more diverse portfolio of factions affiliated with Torah Judaism.
In another email sent from the address of Rabbi Tropper's secretary Mrs. Shain on December 21, 2007 but signed by "Leib," – i.e. Rabbi Tropper – he writes:
Dear Yehuda Dovid [Aguiar's Hebrew name - ed.],
These are the last names for you to have the total of 186 names in
the different categories. Most are from Israel. The three categories are
the greatest of the greatest - who do not need referrals. The next two
categories were recommended by the greatest as the ones worthy of
becoming successors as time goes on. We will fill in the referrals in
the next few days. We just wanted you to have the names to complete the
list already sent to you… We all envy you!
I set up a lot of appointments in Israel for me to distribute the money.
Photo: Email in Aguiar's inbox signed "Leib." Email addresses are blurred to protect privacy.
The Excel attachment to the above email displays an impressive list of rabbis and includes a column listing the referring rabbi for many of the entries.
Many more such lists are in Aguiar's email inbox. The young philanthropist says he would approve the recommended sums suggested by Rabbi Tropper next to each name and then wire the funds to Rabbi Tropper's organizations.
According to the public record for Aguiar's Lillian Jean Kaplan Foundation, $4,850,000 was donated to Rabbi Tropper's Horizons organization by Aguiar in the first four months of 2008. Aguiar says that on December 31, 2007, he donated another $3,000,000 to Rabbi Tropper's organizations as a personal donation not via the foundation. He speaks of yet more money transfers.
When asked by Israel National News about the compilation of the aforementioned lists in a recorded telephone call, Rabbi Tropper's American attorney Glenn Waldman says that Rabbi Tropper denies that he and Aguiar "prepared at any time specific lists as to the beneficiaries of the charitable donations."
However, in a follow up phone call and subsequent email, Rabbi Tropper himself clarified to Israel National News that he and his attorney have no comment, and that his attorney neither confirmed nor denied any of the questions relating to the compilation of lists of beneficiaries. He explained that since the matter is in litigation, he cannot comment.
Mrs. Shain also would not comment on the lists and deferred to attorney Waldman.
A Billionaire Comes to Jerusalem
In early 2008, Aguiar turned to Rabbi Tovia Singer for advice about where to continue his life. "Should I move to Colorado or Jerusalem," he asked. Rabbi Singer responded, "Guma, you know the answer." Aguiar flew to Jerusalem, where he would eventually purchase several apartments in the Old City and the Yemin Moshe neighborhood.
In accordance with the age-old Zionist tradition, Aguiar has also redeemed numerous Jerusalem properties from Arab ownership.
By early 2009, however, Aguiar began to suspect that some of the funds he entrusted with Rabbi Tropper were not delivered to the designated rabbis. "I asked him specifically who had received the money – that I wanted to meet with different rabbis,” Guma told Israel National News. "He [Rabbi Tropper] came to Israel a few times, and… would leave really quick and… be at the airport before he returned my call. I started calling him, and he wasn't returning my calls," Aguiar adds.
Aguiar says that in face-to-face conversations, some of the leading rabbis who Aguiar had previously believed helped Rabbi Tropper formulate the lists, said they weren't consulted at all.
Aguiar reads from one of the email lists of beneficiares: "Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach recommended that Rabbi [Avigdor] Neventzal get money. He never got the money. Rabbi [Yosef Shalom] Elyashiv recommended Rabbi Elchonon Berlin and Rabbi Michel Berniker. They never got the money. Rabbi Yechezkel Mutzaphi and Rabbi Dovid Shochet never got the money."
Aguiar meeting with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach in Jerusalem
Israel news photo: Bhol.co.il
According to Aguiar, "Tropper lied in the name of the biggest rabbis... They don't even know who he is. Unfortunately, these appointments in Israel to distribute the money by Leib [Tropper], never got there... including hospitals, yeshivas, wedding funds, girls' high schools, research institutes, and rabbi's medical funds."
Aguiar says he has a portfolio of thank you letters that Rabbi Tropper allegedly drafted, signed and forged in the name of great rabbis. "I approached some of them, and they said that they never received the funds and never wrote those letters," he says.
However, Aguiar does acknowledge that some rabbis and institutions on the lists did, in fact, receive the designated funds.
Aguiar says he continued his attempts to track down Rabbi Tropper until April 26th, 2009, when he got word that Rabbi Tropper was at the David Citadel Hotel. Aguiar walked from his home in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood to the nearby hotel.
Showdown at the David Citadel
Regarding the confrontation between the two men at the David Citadel Hotel, Haaretz published Rabbi Tropper's statement to the police as follows:
"On the day he [Rabbi Tropper] was scheduled to leave Israel, he asked hotel staff to help him with his luggage, and when he opened his door he was stunned to see Aguiar and one of his bodyguards - at least one of whom reeked of alcohol - standing next to the bellboy.
"Tropper said Aguiar pushed his way into the room, cursed at him and ordered the bellboy to leave. He then pulled off Tropper's glasses and threatened to throw him out of the window.
"Tropper said Aguiar told him, 'I'll throw you off the ninth floor. You better take a look at the city, because it's the last time you'll see Jerusalem.'"
"When hotel security staff present threatened to call the police, the businessman allegedly said, 'I know all of the police in Jerusalem, and they'll listen to me.'"
"Aguiar's bodyguard then restrained him, and returned Tropper his glasses. A hotel security officer soon arrived, and Aguiar and his bodyguard left the scene. Tropper said he required medical attention after the incident.
Aguiar's version of the events differs:
"When I got there, he [Rabbi Tropper] wasn't around. I got a room in the hotel. I stayed on the 9th floor. Only the presidential suite was available so I got it for the night. Little did I know that Leib Tropper was staying on the same floor in an expensive business suite. So as I'm walking to my room, his door was wide open. I look inside – he's standing there. I was shocked to see him, and he was more shocked to see me…”
"I proceeded to say, 'Where have you been? Why aren't you returning my phone calls? What happened to the money that I gave you?' I was very civil… He wouldn't answer me… He wouldn't talk. [I said] 'What do you mean you're not going to say anything? This has nothing to do with anything outside of me having given you money to give to poor people in Israel. What do you mean you're not going to talk to me about it….' [Rabbi Tropper replied,] 'I have nothing to say.'"
Based on Rabbi Tropper's complaint about the incident at the hotel, a Jerusalem Police investigation was opened and closed and then reopened again several weeks ago.
Aguiar "welcomes" having the police come and question him, and adds, "but it will turn into an investigation about Leib Tropper." Aguiar further claims that there was a bellboy in the hotel room who denied that he threatened Rabbi Tropper.
In response to Rabbi Tropper's allegations of “assault and threats”, Aguiar maintains that Rabbi Tropper and his uncle Thomas Kaplan are “afraid of their weakening position in separate litigation in Florida and are trying to divert attention with sensational headlines.”
In the Florida law suit, Rabbi Tropper is scheduled to be deposed later this month.
Fraudulent Ad in Hareidi Newspaper
On the eve of the holiday of Shavuot, an article in the hareidi publication Sha'a Tova praised Guma Aguiar and mentioned his warm relationship with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, the oldest son of the late great sage Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach of blessed memory.
A few days later, however, the hareidi-religious newspaper Mevaser published an advertisement in the name of Yaakov Epstein calling "G.", referring to Guma Aguiar, a "questionable character who is married to a woman who underwent a very questionable conversion." The ad stated that Rabbi Auerbach denies any connection to "G."
The hareidi website B'hadrei Hareidim published a statement later that day from sources close to Rabbi Auerbach saying, "The ad is an outright lie. There is no one named Epstein who is close to the rabbi. We don't know such a man, and the ad is completely fabricated."
Aguiar's Israel attorney Eitan Gabay says that he followed the money trail behind the ad and found that it leads to Rabbi Tropper's Eternal Jewish Family organization, which promotes strict standards for Jewish conversions "without compromise."
Rabbi Tropper categorically denied having anything to do with the ad, stating simply, "It's not me."
Aguiar says that his lawsuit against Rabbi Tropper in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court is only the beginning. Aguiar says he will pursue this in other courts in Israel and the U.S. if need be.
He told Israel National News that if he couldn't back up his accusations, it would be silly of him to make them. "There will be no settlement. No sweeping of this under the table. This is going to be exposed. Tropper sealed his own fate when he stole money from rabbis and their communities which didn't get the grants which were intended for them,” declares Guma.
Rabbi Tropper's attorney, meanwhile, issued a "straightforward, absolute, unequivocal denial." Regarding claims of misuse of funds, he said, "That is total fabrication."
It will be up to the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court along with U.S. authorities to determine the truth in the matter.