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Torah charity founder accused of fraud over lost scrolls

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man who billed himself as the "Jewish Indiana Jones" for rescuing Torah scrolls lost in the Holocaust was arrested on Wednesday for making up the bogus stories to steal money from his Save a Torah charity.

Menachem Youlus, 50, of Wheaton, Maryland, was charged with one count each of mail fraud and wire fraud, said U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara and U.S. Postal Inspector Ronald Verrochio, both based in New York.

If convicted of the charges, Youlus faces 20 years in prison, a $250 fine and other penalties for each count.

Authorities said Youlus owns the Jewish Bookstore in Maryland and co-founded Save a Torah in 2004. He is identified on the SaveATorah.org as "Rabbi Menachem Youlus."

The charity raised over $1.2 million in contributions from 2004 to 2010. Youlus is accused of defrauding the charity out of "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Bhahara said.

Youlus lied about finding Torahs lost or hidden around the world during the Holocaust, including at concentration camps such as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, authorities said.

"I guess you could call me the Jewish Indiana Jones," Youlus said at a 2004 Torah dedication, according to the criminal complaint.

His lies allowed him to seek contributions to Save a Torah, some of which he embezzled by diverting them directly into his personal bank accounts, authorities said.

Youlus is also accused of submitting inflated and doctored invoices to Save a Torah to increase the amount he was reimbursed by the charity for the "rescued" Torahs. In at least some instances, Youlus had simply purchased from other Torah dealers, authorities said.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)