Rabbi Barry Starr Paid Back Much of What He Allegedly Stole, DA Says
If you’ve followed the abrupt, strange downfall of Rabbi Barry Starr, the Commonwealth’s case against him goes a long way toward defending his character.
Starr was arraigned Tuesday, pleading not guilty to charges of embezzlement and larceny. He’s accused of misappropriating thousands of dollars in temple funds and loans from congregants at Temple Israel in Sharon, where he served as a rabbi for 28 years. The money allegedly went to pay off Nick Zemeitus, a Milton man who was allegedly blackmailing the rabbi over an alleged sexual encounter. (Zemeitus was arraigned last month on charges of extortion and larceny, and is being held on $400,000 cash bail.)
Yet as the District Attorney’s office lays out the charges against Starr, it also takes pains to counter what it says are “lies” Zemeitus told. For example: In an email found on Starr’s computer, Zemeitus wrote demanding money from Starr and threatening to expose what he said was a sexual liaison between Starr and Zemeitus’s brother, a sixteen-year-old boy. This detail, included in early police reports, was quickly repeated in media stories that did not debunk Zemeitus’s claim.
But as it turns out, Zemeitus admitted he was an only child. “Zemeitus lied in his emails about having a younger brother,” the DA’s office wrote in the statement. And police investigators found not even “a single incident of child pornography or allegations,” or any child porn images on Starr’s computer, the DA’s office wrote.
Instead, “Starr’s computer showed that he frequented Craigslist posts seeking transsexual escorts.”
(This last might give some credence to Zemeitus’s claim that he and the rabbi met after Zemeitus answered a Craigslist ad purportedly from an older woman, only to be greeted by the rabbi in a dress instead.)
Zemeitus also lied to the police about the amount of money that had passed between him and Starr, the DA’s office wrote. He initially told police that Starr had paid him roughly $200,000 for his silence. “However, emails from Zemeitus state that Starr had paid almost $500,000.”
Finally, Zemeitus told police that Starr gave him the congregant’s checks and encouraged him to alter them. “Zemeitus stated that Starr believed that these congregants were older and would never notice,” the DA’s office recounted, adding “Other than Zemeitus’ self-serving statements there has been no evidence that Starr was complicit in giving checks of congregants to Zemeitus” and noting that Zemeitus was seen lurking around the temple .
So the DA’s statement of the case allows that Starr may have embezzled money to pay off Zemeitus—but is emphatic that he does not appear to be a child molester or a check-forger.
“The purpose of the statement of the case is to give the judge an overall sense of issues presented,” said District Attorney Communications Director David Traub. Traub explained that since Zemeitus’s statements and emails are “suggestive of other criminal activity,” it was important to “answer those questions in the mind of the judge.”
The DA’s statement also sharply downgrades the amount that Starr is alleged to have embezzled. While the rabbi did withdraw a total of $448,300—over $360,000 of which came from the temple’s Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund—“Starr would at times replenish this fund with personal loans,” the statement says. Starr paid back all but about $67,000 of it, the DA said. Traub added that it’s commonplace in embezzlement cases for embezzlers to have attempted to pay back the funds they’ve misappropriated.
“Before arriving at the $67,000 figure,” the DA’s office wrote, “investigators gave Starr credit for all personal money that he deposited into the fund.” Indeed, it seems as if the DA’s case has given Starr as much credit as it possibly could.