Jewish newspaper scam alleged

LOS ANGELES — Hot on the trail of a man they believe is a skillful scam artist, officials in Canada are fairly certain the man and his partners have found a new home: Hollywood Boulevard.

Over the past year, companies in Canada have received invoices for ads placed in a publication called, "The American Jewish News." The invoices bill for amounts ranging from $1,500 to $3,600. The hitch? The companies say they never placed these ads. And there is no record of any publication called the American Jewish News.

According to the Toronto Star, police are investigating the scheme, which they say appears like a twist on a more common strategy of fraudulent billing for office supplies and equipment. This group, however, uses religious symbolism to legitimate its claims. The letterhead shows a menorah superimposed on a Star of David.

Several companies in Canada complained to police there after receiving nasty follow-up letters to the invoices. These letters threatened legal action. "The pressure tactics used were unbelievable," one recipient told the Star.

After returning a message left by the Jewish Journal, a man identifying himself as Freddy Fuks, the paper's publisher, called the charges, "Lies, all lies." Fuks said his lawyers have contacted the Canadian Jewish News and the Toronto Star and initiated legal action. "We are a regular paper," he said.

Asked for his paper's circulation numbers, Fuks said he didn't know. He said the paper is distributed through the mail and at newsstands, but could not name a newsstand where a reporter might find it. After promising to immediately send the Journal some sample issues, Fuks, who speaks with an Israeli accent, hung up. The promised issues never arrived.

According to Ron Csillag, a reporter at the Canadian Jewish News, Fuks– who told Csillag his name was "Jerry Gold" — threatened legal action, but no lawyers have ever contacted the CJN or the Toronto Star on Fuks' behalf. Csillag said he is still waiting to see the copy of the American Jewish News Fuks promised to send him a year ago. "It simply doesn't exist," Csillag said.

What does exist is a media kit Fuks distributes to prospective advertisers. In the kit, the paper is called the "North American Jewish News." Its motto is "The Media Which Cares." Fax covers reproduce articles taken from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, an international Jewish news service to which many Jewish newspapers, including the Journal and Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, subscribe. The kit lists names of JTA writers as its editorial staff.

None of these people ever contributed or worked for such a paper, and the JTA has never had a contract with the American Jewish News.

Officers at the Los Angeles Police Department fraud and forgery squad told the Journal they have not received any complaints about the group. Its current letterhead lists its address as 7095 Hollywood Blvd. No. 729, Hollywood CA 90028. The phone number is listed as (323) 871-5836. According to an official at the U.S. Postal Service Postal Inspectors office, the address is a box at Mail Boxes Etc.

The group has been using Los Angeles as an address on and off since 1992. By focusing on larger companies, the group has likely been able to get some bills rubber-stamped and paid, said a post office inspector. If the initial invoice goes unpaid, the companies receive two more letters. The first alerts the company to the missed payment. The second, written in threatening legalistic language, bears the title, "NOTICE BEFORE LEGAL ACTION."

"We are one of the most respected Jewish publications for many years," reads the letter.

The letters are signed under various aliases, including Sara Kline, Bob Cohen, Jerry Gold, and Nina, Tali or Freddy Fuks.

Anyone contacted by the company should call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at (818) 845-3562.

Rob Eshman
Rob Eshman

Rob Eshman is national editor of the Forward. Follow him @foodaism.