Sentencing off again for ex-JEC rabbi

Once again, a sentencing hearing for Rabbi Bentzion Pil in U.S. District Court has been postponed.

Pil, the co-founder and director of the now-defunct Jewish Education Center in San Francisco, was first slated to be sentenced at a May 4 hearing, which was continued to June 15, which was continued to Aug. 31.

However, a defense attorney for Pil said next week's hearing has now been rescheduled for Oct. 12 — three days after Yom Kippur and one day before Sukkot.

In December, Pil pleaded guilty to a felony charge of evading reporting laws on bank deposits. He faces the possibility of 18 to 33 months in prison.

U.S. Department of Justice officials said a series of continuances for sentencing hearings is not uncommon.

Then again, added Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Nadel, "I suspect that this will be the last continuance…I don't expect that we would agree to an additional continuance."

Randy Sue Pollock, a defense attorney for Pil, said the reason for the latest postponement is that she is locked up in trial and doesn't have time right now to prepare a sentencing memorandum.

"My trial is lasting approximately a month," Pollock said last week. "And then there's the Jewish holidays."

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown Friday, Sept. 29 followed by Yom Kippur at sundown Sunday, Oct. 8. Sukkot begins at sundown Friday, Oct. 13.

As for Pil's fate, he and his wife, Mattie, have had their attention focused elsewhere this week. Their third-oldest of nine children, Chaim, is becoming a bar mitzvah tomorrow, with a party Sunday near Stern Grove.

Pil, who grew up in the Soviet Union, became something of a local celebrity in the 1990s for his radio ads asking people to donate their used cars to the JEC. Through auctions, the JEC turned those cars into millions of dollars per year.

Pil landed in hot water for making hundreds of bank deposits just under a $10,000 level that triggers federal reporting laws.

A plea agreement made by Pil last year included the possibility of prison time. However, the agreement did not state a sentence length or range.

The agreement did include calculations for sentencing guidelines — 18 to 24 months if Pil accepts responsibility for his deeds, 27 to 33 months if he doesn't. However, those specific time frames were not recommended to Judge Martin Jenkins. Plus, they could be changed.

"There is no agreement as to what sentence the government will recommend," Nadel said. "There is no definitive guideline range agreed upon in the plea agreement."

Jenkins can give Pil a shorter or longer sentence than the guidelines — up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He could also receive probation, which his attorneys have predicted will happen.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.