By Yair Hoffman
Todd and Julie Chrisley are supposedly “self-made moguls” with a popular reality TV series that has aired for nine years. This week, they were convicted of fraud.
Just last month, NBC Universal announced that “Chrisley Knows Best” had been renewed for a 10th season. NBC further announced that a spinoff called “Growing Up Chrisley,” starring two Chrisley children, Chase and Savannah, has been renewed for a fourth season, and that a new dating show hosted by Todd Chrisley would begin next year.
After a three-week trial in the Federal District Court in Atlanta, Georgia, they were convicted of conspiring to defraud banks out of $30 million and avoiding years of tax bills. They had apparently used money from fraudulently obtained loans for luxury cars, designer clothes, real estate, and travel.
A jury found the Chrisleys jointly guilty on eight counts of financial fraud and two counts of tax evasion. Ms. Chrisley was also convicted of additional counts of wire fraud and obstruction of justice.
Keri Farley, the FBI special agent in charge in Atlanta, said in a statement, “When you lie, cheat, and steal, justice is blind to your fame, your fortune, and your position.”
According to their indictment, they obtained loans by using a bank statement saying they had $4 million at Merrill Lynch when they did not even own an account with Merrill Lynch. The couple used money from loans for “luxury cars, designer clothes, real estate, and travel,” filed bankruptcy, and walked away from more than $20 million in loans. They did not pay the Internal Revenue Service in a timely manner for the 2013 through 2016 tax years, the indictment noted.
In light of these headlines, let us examine three pertinent cases or questions that at times apply, unfortunately, to our community. Of course, one should not move on these situations without proper halachic guidance from one’s own rav or posek.
Case #1. An individual has allegedly taken millions of dollars from investors by convincing them to take out credit card loans for certain investment purposes. These applications involved the use of fraud. The people are now stuck with enormous credit card debt. They tried to take the person to beis din but it didn’t work out well for them. May they go to court?
Case #2. Another person is suspected of taking investment money from people on false pretenses based upon the direct allegations of several trustworthy people. Can the person be identified publicly as a public service warning to others? More importantly, what are the criteria by which one can do so?
Case #3. An employer believes that his employee has “sticky fingers.” Can he fire him? Can he force him (where it is legal to do so) to take a polygraph examination? Also, what is the status of a polygraph exam in halachah?
The following is this author’s understanding of the underlying halachos.
A good place to start is the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. The Rema (C.M. 421:6) rules that a person who has an employee whom he suspects will steal from him may fire him prior to the termination of his employment contract.
The Erech Shai on location (written by Rabbi Shlomo Yehudah Tabak, the av beis din of Sighet 1830–1907) asks how this can be the case. Based upon this ruling, any employer would be able to fire his employee if he found someone who would work cheaper simply by stating that he is concerned about theft!
The Erech Shai answers that it can only be done if he brings proof that the employee is a thief or if there is raglayim la’davar—a strong indication to that effect. Other Acharonim also understand the Rema in this manner.
We find that the Rambam (Hilchos Geneivah 5:10) is a strong advocate of the idea of “raglayim la’davar.”
According to the Chofetz Chaim (Hilchos Lashon Ha’ra 7:11), if one’s intentions are truly to save others from losing money, one may relate the facts of the situation without embellishment.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, ruled that the polygraph test has the status of a rov (a majority) in halachah. The ruling is cited by his son-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, in Chashukei Chemed Bava Metzia (37a). A polygraph certainly has the status of raglayim la’davar.
There is also a fascinating Panim Meiros (Vol. II #155) which cites the aforementioned Rema and further states that although based upon “raglayim la’davar” one can actually use physical violence, one may still not use this level of evidence to permit going to the authorities against this person, out of a concern that he will incur capital punishment. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l (Koveitz Teshuvos Vol. I #198), used this Panim Meiros to permit a shul to go to the authorities regarding someone who steals pushkahs from a shul. This is also indicated from the words of Dayan Weiss, zt’l, in Minchas Yitzchok Vol. IX #9 s.p. 2, as cited by Rav Asher Weiss (no relation to the Minchas Yitzchok) in Yeshurun #15.
A rather pertinent question is how exactly we determine the parameters of raglayim la’davar. There is a responsum written by Rav Nissim Karelitz, zt’l, (1926–2019) to one of the dayanim of the well-respected Baltimore Beis Din, Rabbi Mordechai Shochotowitz, dated 4 Kislev 2008, that states that one may only go to arkaos based upon a written ruling from an experienced beis din and only after the other side had opportunity to present its case. Rav Karelitz thus gives three requirements:
1. The ruling must be written
2. It must be written by an experienced beis din.
3. The other side must have been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
Although these three requirements are prudent, it is unclear to this author whether other poskim agree to these three criteria based upon the aforementioned Panim Meiros. At times, in regard to financial matters especially, time is of the essence, and renowned gedolei ha’poskim have issued something called an “ikul”—a temporary injunction, so to speak—which would allow one to go to court without having met these three criteria.
Professional con artists are quite adept at “gaming the system.” They can deftly utilize the combination of the laws against going to arkaos and relating “lashon ha’ra” to milk innocent people of their hard-earned money.
Unfortunately, in the past, media outlets that had originally tried warning the public against these types of dangers were “put in their place” by well-meaning individuals who had trusted and believed the Ponzi-schemers. Ultimately, these outlets were so embittered by the experience that they stopped their efforts in publicizing the warnings.
Sadly, immoral individuals have often applied the following five-step method to rip off members of our community for years.
1. Give a large donation to an institution with a wealthy donor base. Do so magnanimously, and genuinely try to help out that institution, showing that it is dear to your heart.
2. Come up with a false but effective sounding business plan or investment strategy, and casually talk about it to wealthy individuals.
3. Name-drop big company names or people who have signed on, and show false paper work that “proves” the whole scam.
4. Take investment money from others and, at the outset, pay a hefty return on profits. Do so from other monies that you are receiving.
5. Give a significant donation to a cause backed by a well-liked rabbinic leader and develop a relationship with him. You will need to use this relationship in order to attempt to influence him or others around him into helping defend you against those people who realize that you have stolen their money. Articles in the Jewish media can be squashed. This will also help you gain more people from whom to obtain more money.
The above is not a cynical view of the state of affairs in the world. It is, unfortunately, a scenario that has been repeated numerous times. It is more prevalent than it should be, in this author’s view, because people are almost entirely unaware of a Torah obligation that is incumbent upon all of us.
Yes, there is a Torah obligation upon all of us to prevent the proliferation of Ponzi-schemers and rip-offs within our community. It is called the obligation to be “chas al mamon Yisrael—concerned for the financial well-being of our brethren,” a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah of “v’ahavata l’rei’acha kamocha.”
The Gemara in Moed Katan 27b tells us that when Jews were burying their dead in the finest clothing, Rabban Gamliel HaZakein arose and declared that enough was enough. The rising pressure, the “keeping up with the Joneses” in how to dress the deceased, was causing enormous economic pressure on the living. “It must stop,” declared the rabbi, and the tachrichim, burial shrouds, we now use became the norm.
The great Tzemach Tzedek (of 17th century Poland), cited by the Magen Avraham in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos, once ruled (responsum #28) that when local fishermen collude and raise the price of fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down.
We will see, however, that it is not just great Torah leaders who have saved and are concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow Jews. It seems that this is what is expected by the Torah of everyone.
The Gemara (Menachos 76a) tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to also feed the nation’s livestock from the water that He had caused to come out from the rock at Mei Merivah. Also, Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 27a) points out that the kohen first removes the vessels from the house before declaring a house impure. So we see examples of the Torah being concerned with the financial well-being of the Jewish nation.
The difference between the two cases is that the former is for the entire nation, while the latter demonstrates that the Torah is concerned even for the individual’s finances.
Social Norm And Torah Obligation
The Chasam Sofer on Bava Basra (54b) states that, generally speaking, one can assume that Jews are concerned with the monetary well-being of their fellow man, and that this assumption has legal ramifications. So we see that it is the normal behavior expected of all Jews.
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur, discusses (in the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter 35) a person who does not care about Jewish money. He writes that such a person will surely answer for it in the future. The Minchas Chinuch writes that one who is concerned about the preservation of his fellow Jew’s money fulfills the Biblical commandment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (see his commentary on that mitzvah).
The clear indication from these sources is that demonstrating concern for the financial well-being of others is not just a mitzvah; it is an expected social norm, with reward for those who do it and punishment for those who do not.
May Hashem help us in ensuring that fraudulent activity is eliminated from within our community and our country. Hopefully, these headlines about Todd and Julie Chrisley will serve as a cautionary tale and compel people to perform their due diligence before handing over their money.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.