הרב ברלנד
הרב ברלנד צילום: יונתן סינדל, פלאש 90

Eliezer Berland, founder of the Shuvu Banim movement, was convicted Monday afternoon by a Jerusalem court and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The 84-year-old dean of the Shuvu Banim yeshiva plead guilty as part of a plea bargain to charges of extortion, fraud, attempting to make threats, and money laundering.

The Jerusalem District Court signed off on the plea bargain, convicting Berland and sentencing him to a year and a half in prison.

In addition, Berland has been fined 2,415,000 ($743,250), and has been ordered to pay damages to his victims.

Investigators say Berland used his position in the Shuvu Banim movement and took advantage of his followers’ belief in his spiritual powers to bilk hundreds of victims, promising to heal them or provide special ‘pidyon’ blessings aimed at ‘redeeming’ them from difficult situations. In some instances, Berland was found to have promised to treat people who had been declared brain dead – in exchange for tens of thousands of shekels.

Berland was previously convicted of sexual abuse, and in 2016 was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against female followers first came to light in 2012, but Berland managed to evade Israeli authorities until his capture in South Africa in late 2015. He was finally returned to Israel in July, 2016.