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Rabbi arrested in Toronto in immigration fraud probe

At his home in a largely Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in North York, Rabbi Avraham David lived the life of a scholar, writing treatises on the Torah and indulging his passion for numerology. He said a code within the holy texts contained everything from predictions on current events to a recipe for an oil that could cure male pattern baldness. Mr. David had written a book on the topic and, for a small fee, would also interpret people's dreams.

But authorities in the United States contend the rabbi, whose real name is Earl Seth David, had another interest altogether. For 15 years, they say, he ran a multimillion-dollar operation that provided tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants fake papers.

Mr. David, 47, was arrested Tuesday morning by the Toronto Police Service Fugitive Squad while walking near his house and taken to a jail cell in the Toronto West Detention Centre to face extradition proceedings.

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A Canadian citizen, Mr. David practised law for many years in New York until he was suspended in 2004. He fled back to Canada five years ago as investigators began probing the alleged fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice alleges in an indictment filed in Manhattan Federal Court.

Together with 26 other people, he is accused of operating a scheme through his Manhattan law practice. For fees of up to $30,000 apiece, clients were allegedly supplied with fake documentation stating they had been sponsored by U.S. employers to help them immigrate to the United States and secure legal status.

The government has identified at least 25,000 immigration applications submitted by Mr. David's law firm; it says almost all of them are fraudulent. The "sponsorships" being churned out were mostly on behalf of non-existent shell companies, it's alleged.

In online postings, Mr. David said he was the scion of a dynasty of Hassidic Jewish leaders. Among his ancestors, he wrote, were Moshe Langner and Solomon Langner, a prominent Orthodox rabbi in Toronto during the mid-20th century at the Kiever Shul in Kensington Market.

According to New York court records, Mr. David took his law degree at Brooklyn Law School and joined the bar in 1988.

Prosecutors say Mr. David's practice operated at different locations in Manhattan and used different names.

In 2004, his licence to practice law was suspended as a result of an unrelated incident that happened some 12 years earlier. According to court documents, Mr. David was peripherally involved in a stock manipulation and money laundering scheme, for which he took a payment of $10,000 in 1992. He co-operated with authorities, testified at trials and was never charged criminally.

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The courts barred him from practising law for 18 months but, prosecutors allege, he continued to run his business after he was suspended, ensuring his name was not attached to any paperwork filed with government agencies. Even after fleeing north in 2006, they say, he continuing to profit off the business.

His last registered address in the United States is a strip mall off a highway in Matawan, N.J. A woman who identified herself as Mr. David's wife had little to say, but offered to take a message for him.

"Really, I cannot talk right now. It's long distance. I'll talk to you later," she said.

From Toronto, Mr. David continued to sell his 2003 Torah book, Code of the Heart, gave interviews on numerology and penned missives on the hidden meanings within weekly Torah portions. He kept a pet parrot and became involved with a small Orthodox congregation downtown.

Online, he commented on current affairs, writing that last year's earthquake in Haiti was a sign that Israel should "take heed and be fearful" and criticizing a Jewish blogger for writing about crimes committed by Jews.

Just three months ago, Mr. David bought a half-million-dollar house near Bathurst Street and Lawrence Avenue on a street of well-appointed, detached brick homes. The property is registered to him and Salome Fernandez Palomo. A woman who answered the phone at the home Wednesday evening hung up immediately.

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Mr. David was arrested without incident while walking on the street near his home. All defendants in the case have been indicted on multiple charges, including conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

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