La Jolla crime and public safety report

Synagogue director sentenced to 18 months for embezzlement, sex offender arrested near La Jolla Bike Path

Compiled by Pat Sherman

On Sept. 19, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw sentenced Eric S. Levine to 18 months in prison for stealing money from La Jolla’s Congregation Beth El synagogue.

Levine served as Beth El’s executive director from July 2007 to December 2013, overseeing the synagogue’s annual budget. He also had access to, and control over, Beth El’s bank accounts, credit card accounts and bookkeeping records.

According to a release issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, beginning sometime around February 2008, Levine began embezzling money from the synagogue for his own use. As part of his guilty plea, Levine admitted misappropriating $394,872 from the synagogue over five years. Based on additional accounting analysis and review of financial records, the congregation identified its ultimate losses from Levine’s conduct at more than $540,000.

Levine was able to carry out his embezzlement by virtue of his control over Beth El’s bank account and credit card. On most occasions, he used money located in the congregation’s bank account to pay his own bills directly. On other occasions, he transferred balances from his personal credit card to the congregation’s credit card account, and then paid his balances with the congregation’s funds.

In order to fool the congregation, its bookkeepers and executive staff, Levine falsified Beth El’s books and records to cover up his ongoing theft, hiding thousands of dollars in payments to himself by creating entries for legitimate expenses of the synagogue, in categories such as “Ritual Fund,” “Rabbi Emeritus,” “High Holidays,” “janitorial expense,” “utilities,” and “landscaping expense.” Levine also prepared false financial reports and annual budget proposals based on these inflated figures.

The funds were used to pay a variety of Levine’s credit card charges, including trips to Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Canada; charges at a North County resort; monthly gym membership and regular $1,400 charges for a personal trainer and other expenditures. Levine also used Beth El’s money to appoint his home with expensive leather furniture and barbecue equipment, buy jewelry and send his children to private school.

Judge Sabraw said the case involved “deeply troubling circumstances” because Levine’s scheme victimized both his employer and congregants who shared his life and faith.

“It’s a deception not only of the synagogue, but everyone who makes up the synagogue, so there are hundreds of victims. The sense of betrayal cannot be overstated,” he said.

The Court ordered that Levine pay $543,000 in restitution for the funds he stole. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.

U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy added, “Mr. Levine embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance a life of luxury for himself while betraying the people who believed in him. This defendant was a one-man wrecking ball to this congregation, both financially and emotionally, and today the court imposed a fitting sentence for such abhorrent conduct.” --FBI Reports

Driver rescued after car 
veers of La Jolla roadway

Firefighters rescued a driver from a car that went off the road and plunged 50 feet down a steep embankment in La Jolla Sept. 24, along Hillside Drive.

Firefighters say the driver lost control and veered off the road just after 4 p.m.

A witness rushed to help the driver, who was hurt in the crash, staying with him until firefighters arrived the man was taken to an area hospital.

Sex offender arrested 
near La Jolla Bike Path

A nude male was reported in the park adjacent La Jolla Methodist Church Nursery School on La Jolla Hermosa Avenue near the La Jolla Bike Path at approximately 7:15 a.m. Friday, Sept. 19.

After a witness phoned 911, San Diego Police responded and found the male wearing shorts. The suspect turned out to be a sex offender that had not complied with the terms of his probation by registering and was arrested.

San Diego Police advise that everyone, especially young children and teenagers, use the buddy system and immediately report any suspicious activity on the bike path, including drug use and homeless encampments.

Police also advise people using the bike path to carry a mobile phone on walks.

Police Blotter

Sept. 21: Abuse/cruelty to elderly/dependent adult, 2500 block Torrey Pines Road, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 22: Vehicle break-in/theft, 8600 block Villa La Jolla Drive, 8:50 p.m.

Sept. 23: Vehicle break-in/theft, 8000 block Gilman Court, 10 p.m.

Sept. 25: Vehicle break-in/theft, 7300 block Fay Avenue, 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 26: Grand theft, 6400 block Avenida Wilfredo, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 27: Sex crime (adult male flashed females and was apprehended by lifeguards), 8300 block Camino del Oro, 6:25 p.m.

To report a non-emergency crime: Contact the San Diego Police Department’s Northern Division, which serves the neighborhoods of La Jolla, Torrey Pines and University City:

Phone: (858) 552-1700