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La Jolla rabbi, former director of Chabad at UCSD, pleads guilty in donation scheme

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(File)

The former director of Chabad at UC San Diego pleaded guilty Jan. 26 to conspiring with former Chabad of Poway rabbi Yisroel Goldstein to defraud Qualcomm’s corporate matching program.

Rabbi Yehuda Hadjadj, 47, of La Jolla — who founded Chabad House on Campus in 2005 with his wife — admitted to persuading at least three people to make fake donations to Friendship Circle, a non-sectarian organization run by Goldstein.

Goldstein was sentenced earlier this month to 14 months in prison for running a series of fraudulent schemes, including one in which supposed charitable donations made to the synagogue were funneled back to donors. He pleaded guilty in 2020 to wire and tax fraud.

In what prosecutors have termed a “90/10" scheme, Goldstein accepted charitable donations, then would send about 90 percent of the funds back to the donors while pocketing the remainder. Donors would then falsely claim on tax forms that 100 percent of their donations went to Chabad of Poway, with Goldstein providing them with fake receipts.

In addition to the money Goldstein returned to them, co-defendants whose employers participated in corporate donation matching programs also pocketed the matching donation amounts provided by the companies, which were defrauded of at least $144,000.

In Hadjadj’s case, Chabad at UCSD could not receive corporate matching funds from Qualcomm, since its matching program excluded sectarian or denominational religious groups. To hide that Chabad at UCSD would be receiving the funds, Hadjadj told donors to write checks to Friendship Circle, then returned all or most of the contributions in cash to the donors, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Donors would then ask Qualcomm to match their donation. Prosecutors say Goldstein sent about two-thirds of the matched funds to Hadjadj and kept the remainder.

Hadjadj secured nearly $40,000 for Chabad at UCSD over the course of the scheme, prosecutors say.

Hadjadj is the 10th person to plead guilty in the case, while two others have agreed to deferred prosecution agreements, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Hadjadj is set to be sentenced as early as April. Attorneys for the government and the defense have agreed to recommend to the judge a sentence of three years’ probation, according to the plea.

The greater Chabad of San Diego organization said Hadjadj was suspended from his position when leaders became aware of the investigation some time ago. The plea makes his suspension permanent.

“Though Rabbi Hadjadj’s activities were relatively small in scale, did not involve personal gain, and he ceased them on his own prior to learning of any investigation, there is no excuse for such conduct,” the organization said in a statement. “We are gratified that he has taken responsibility for his actions.

“Our hearts go out to all the members of the Jewish community of San Diego who are rightfully disappointed. We look forward to turning a new page and focusing on the vital work of bringing more light, joy and meaning to the people of San Diego.” ◆