A "Jewish Indiana Jones." The very words conjure up thrilling scenes of cliff-hanging, deli-sampling adventure! And that's precisely what a mild-mannered Jewish bookstore owner from Maryland was passing himself off as, in what has turned out to be nothing more than an extremely clever con.
Menachem Youlus, 50 (pictured), surrendered on Wednesday to face mail and wire fraud charges for having allegedly tricked benefactors into believing he had been criss-crossing the globe and fleeing boulder-sized matzo balls as he attempted to rescue a number of priceless Torahs that were stolen or confiscated during the Holocaust and other historical periods of antisemitism. That's right: He billed himself as Menachem Youlus: Torah Hunter. From the AP report:
At a 2004 Torah dedication, Youlus wrote: "I guess you could call me the Jewish Indiana Jones," the complaint said.
Youlus would petition contributors for upwards of $250,000 to embark upon a "mission" to rescue, for example, the fabled Auschwitz Torah — saying that in previous efforts he had "been beaten up, thrown in jail, and gone $175,000 into debt."
But [criminal complaint-preparer and U.S. Postal Inspector Greg] Ghiozzi wrote that his investigation of Youlus' globe-trotting found no facts to support claims that Youlus rescued the "Auschwitz Torah" in Poland from inside a metal box that he located and unearthed in 2004 using a metal detector.
There was also no evidence that he discovered a Torah in 2002 that had been hidden during World War II under the floor of a barracks at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, Ghiozzi wrote.
Which is just as well, because the real Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen Torahs would have just wound up buried deep inside Hangar 51, their awesome, destructive powers waiting to be unleashed. Don't read that haftarah, Marion! Shut your eyes no matter what happens!
The complaint says Youlus put a third of the $1.2 million he collected from his side-business into his personal bank account, which he used to spend on his kids' tuition and family expenses. Another $1 million went to his bookstore's account. Youlus is out on $100,000 bail. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. [AP, photo via AP]