Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Lakewood SCHI founder gets 60 days jail, probation in money laundering case

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The founder of a Lakewood special education school will not go to prison, but will serve 60 days in jail and two years on probation for laundering $200,000 from the school, a judge here ruled Monday afternoon.

Rabbi Osher Eisemann, who founded the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence, must also pay a $250,000 fine, according to the sentence handed down by state Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca, sitting in Middlesex County. Eisemann will begin the jail term on July 1.

Rabbi Osher Eisemann, the founder of Lakewood special education school the School for Children with Hidden Intelligence who was found guilty of two criminal counts after a trial and faces prison time for the crimes, is sentenced before Judge Benjamin S. Bucca, Jr. at the Middlesex County Courthouse in New Brunswick,NJ Monday, April 29, 2019.

Eisemann left the courtroom giving hugs and kisses to many of the more than 50 supporters and family members who packed the benches and buoyed by a show of support from the judge himself.

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“It’s my hope that you get back to (the school),” the judge told Eisemann, adding that Eisemann had lived a “selfless life.”

Bucca made a recommendation, which will be part of his formal ruling in the case, that Eisemann be allowed to return to work at the Oak Street school, although not in a financial or fundraising role.

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New Jersey Department of Education regulations would likely prevent a person with convictions of second-degree crimes from serving at a school, Eisemann’s lawyer, Lee Vartan, has said. Vartan said the judge’s recommendation was “unprecedented” and would carry weight with the state agency, though it is not binding.

Eisemann, 62, was indicted in 2017. He was convicted by a jury in February of second-degree counts of money laundering and misconduct by a corporate official. The jury heard evidence Eisemann moved $200,000 of school money through private accounts, including his own, and ultimately back to the school to make it appear he was repaying a debt.

Vartan argued the conviction should be overturned because the money was repaid in 12 days, but the judge allowed the convictions to stand.

The jury also acquitted Eisemann of three counts that alleged he stole public money meant to educate students at the school, known by its acronym SCHI. The jury also acquitted the school’s fundraising foundation, Services for Hidden Intelligence, of all charges.

Even before indictment, Lakewood school was no stranger to controversy

Under state law, the convictions carry a presumption of prison time of five to 10 years each. Prosecutors asked that Eisemann be sentenced to 12 years prison.

“The defendant is many things,” Deputy Attorney General Anthony Robinson said. “He is a builder, a nurturer and an educator. But he is not a victim. … The defendant has led a great life but that does not exempt you from the law.”

But Bucca found even the minimum prison term, six years, would be a “serious injustice” in part based on Eisemann’s work in special education. More than three dozen letters were sent to the judge in support of Eisemann, many of them outlining Eisemann’s dedication to students at the school he started to help his own son.

“This court cannot ignore the goodwill the defendant has earned making a career of serving special needs students,” Bucca said. And while the judge said the jury’s verdicts were correct, he also said the evidence of Eisemann’s guilt was “slim” and documented in just five lines of testimony during a more than three-week trial.

Those factors, Bucca said, justified a probation sentence instead of prison.

Vartan, Eisemann’s lawyer, said he knew of only two other comparable cases where judges had overruled the presumption of prison time in favor of probation. He said the state’s request for a dozen years in prison was “outlandish” and “in no way justified by the court record or the record of (Eisemann’s) life.”

In a statement Monday, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said it was “reviewing the judge’s decision and considering an appeal.”

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Throughout the court proceedings Eisemann has remained stoic, but Monday he wiped his eyes with a tissue as Vartan argued his good character warranted a sentence of probation.

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