Allegedly Blackmailed Rabbi Pleads Not Guilty to Embezzlement, Larceny

Rabbi Barry Starr appeared in Dedham Superior Court to be arraigned today.

Rabbi Barry Starr was pale and solemn, dressed in a dark suit. He stood accused of embezzling and stealing nearly $500,000 from his former congregation at Sharon’s Temple Israel—all to pay off a man who allegedly blackmailed him for more than two years over a single alleged sexual encounter.

Roughly a dozen of Starr’s former flock showed up to support him as he quietly pleaded “Not guilty” in Dedham Superior Court today.

“He’s in trouble, and we are here to support him as he would support us,” said congregant and former Sharon selectman Henry Katz. “He’s our friend, and if we were in trouble he would support us, and has for years.”

Starr served as rabbi at Temple Israel for 28 years before he abruptly resigned a year ago, citing an infidelity and unspecified moral lapses. A police search of his computer turned up a long chain of emails between him and a young Quincy man named Nick Zemeitus, who had been demanding money from Starr in return for his silence.

Questioned by the police, Zemeitus told detectives he’d met Starr for sex and later blackmailed him over the encounter. Yet in his letters to Starr, he claimed to be the older brother of a 16-year-old, and threatened to release images of Starr having sex with the youth. Zemeitus is an only child, and there is no evidence that there was a 16-year-old. Nonetheless, Starr allegedly paid nearly $500,000, drawing on the temple’s Rabbi Fund, as well as asking congregants for personal loans to keep Zemeitus quiet.

Zemeitus was arraigned last month on charges of extortion and larceny; he was held on $400,000 cash bail.

In court today, Starr’s lawyer, Scott Lopez, asked Judge Douglas H. Wilkins to “impound” part of the state’s case. “There’s been a lot of misinformation reported to the media in this matter, mostly out of the mouth of the alleged extortionist.” Wilkins said he’d consider the request, then ordered Starr released on his own recognizance.

As Starr left the courtroom, one of his former congregants reached out and briefly squeezed his shoulder.