A devout Hassidic Jew is also a brilliant con man.
You are about to meet a devout Hassidic Jew and father of 12. Incredibly, he’s also the mastermind of one of the greatest cons in recent history. His name is Joseph Prushinowski, and by all accounts, he abided by the religious laws of the Hassidic Jews… except when it came to the eighth commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” By adhering to strict religious values, the Hassidim have acquired a reputation for honesty and rock-solid integrity. It was the perfect camouflage for Joseph Prushinowski.
Joseph, his wife, and their children lived in a Hassidic community near Montreal. Prushinowski supposedly ran an export/import business from the basement of his modest home, but the reality was quite different. He was also the brains behind a brilliant scam–one that would net him close to $200 million dollars. The first step of his swindle was to open his own bank. An unsuspecting clerical assistant named Allen Finegold helped with the arrangements. The Caribbean Island of Anguilla is notorious for having some of the most lenient banking standards in the world. Prushinowski supplied two names to be the owners, or principals of his newly created bank. What Allen Finegold didn’t know was that Prushinowski had made up the names:
Chartering an actual bank was a measure of Prushinowski’s sophistication. He could now issue official looking bank cashier’s checks, which were much more convincing than simple personal checks.
The second step of his plan was to write out checks in amounts of up to $1 million dollars, which the bank in Anguilla guaranteed. He would then deposit the checks in business accounts he had set up all over the world. Prushinowski would then contact the bank in person or by phone and, using his incredible talents of persuasion, convince the bankers to advance him large amounts of cash even though the checks had not yet cleared.
Reporter Michael Gillard covered Prushinowski’s cons for several news media outlets:
Meanwhile, Allen Finegold found himself taking calls from angry bankers demanding their money. Ultimately, a Japanese company filed a lawsuit against both Prushinowski and Allen Finegold:
Allen’s faith was completely shattered in March of 1987, when agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stormed Joseph’s office. According to Corporal Norman Denis of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Finegold was cleared of any involvement:
Canadian authorities also raided Prushinowski’s home, but came up empty-handed. The basement office had been cleared out and Prushinowski had fled, taking his wife and children with him. From his Canadian operations, Prushinowski left a trail of rip-offs totaling more than $2 million dollars. According to Michael Gillard, it was just a hint of what was still to come:
It didn’t take long to figure out that Joseph Weiss and Joseph Prushinowski were the same person. But now, his swindles were becoming absurdly huge. Between 1990 and 1992, financial institutions across Europe lost more than $100 million dollars. In the United States, they lost $30 million dollars and in Australia more than $35 million. The astounding total, worldwide, exceeded $190 million. Finally, this master con man came up with one more brilliant plan, one that keeps him safely beyond the reach of the law. According to Reporter Michael Gillard, Prushinowski negotiated to return a portion of the stolen money:
However, a few banks were not willing to settle and arrest warrants were issued for the conman. Authorities now believe that Prushinowski used the stolen money to set up numerous legitimate businesses, and then used those profits to provide housing, education and other services to the Hassidic community.
After more than ten years on the run, Joseph Prushinowski was arrested in Israel. He was convicted of seven fraud charges in a Jerusalem court and sentenced to seven years in prison. Here in the United States, Prushinowski is still wanted by the FBI on multiple counts of bank fraud.