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Man accused of extorting rabbi has criminal record

Sharon Rabbi Barry Starr.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sharon Rabbi Barry Starr.

MILTON — The man who allegedly extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from a prominent Sharon rabbi has a lengthy criminal record, including arrests for threatening to kill a man and illegally possessing a stun gun and brass knuckles.

Nicholas Zemeitus, 29, who lives in a dilapidated house repeatedly cited for zoning violations, has also frequently failed to show up for court dates and has defaulted on court-
ordered payments.

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The father of a 4-year-old girl says he once worked as a roofer and painter. Now, he is at the center of a scandal that has stunned Sharon’s Jewish community and sparked a police investigation.

Court documents released this week assert that Rabbi Barry Starr of Temple Israel of Sharon allegedly paid Zemeitus as much as $480,000 in exchange for his silence.

Zemeitus had threatened to make public the rabbi’s alleged sexual relationship with a teenage boy whom Zemeitus said was his brother, a claim that, like others in the case, remains unsubstantiated.

When police visited Zemeitus’s home last week as part of the extortion probe, they found the house had no running water and other health concerns. As a result, they decided to place his daughter in the custody of the state Department of Children and Families, Milton Police Chief Richard G. Wells Jr. said in a telephone interview Thursday.

“The house was on our radar, because we’ve been there so many times,” said Wells, noting numerous calls in the past five years for loud noises, code violations, slashed tires, and an arrest warrant.

After answering his door this week, Zemeitus declined to speak for more than a few minutes, saying there was a “misunderstanding” about his role in allegedly extorting the rabbi.

Thomas Hoopes, a Boston attorney representing Starr, has described his 64-year-old client as a victim, even though court records show the rabbi acknowledged to a temple official he had a sexual relationship with a young man and allegedly gave money from the rabbi’s discretionary fund to Zemeitus.

“The person who did this thinks he can prey like an animal on people and make anyone his victim, without consequence,” Hoopes said, referring to Zemeitus.

Since 2005, Zemeitus has amassed a 13-page history of driving violations that include having his right to drive suspended 25 times, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. His failure to appear in court has led to warrants for his arrest; of his 25 suspensions, at least five stemmed from the warrants, although his license is now active, records show.

A Quincy native, Zemeitus has a publicly available rap sheet that started at the age of 18, when he was found guilty of disorderly conduct for screaming at Quincy police officers on Bates Avenue. “Hey, you [expletive] cop,” he said, according to an arrest record. “What the [expletive] are you doing? Get the [expletive] out of here.”

Four years later, he was arrested on charges of making threatening calls to a young man in Braintree, whom he had accused of assaulting him. “I just want to let you know that you have 24 hours to live,” Zemeitus told the man, according to an arrest record.

When a police officer investigated the call, Zemeitus reportedly told him, “This [expletive] guy is dead. Tell [him] I’m going to [expletive] kill him.” Zemeitus was arrested for threatening to commit a crime, but it is unclear from the records how the case was resolved.

A year later, in 2008, Zemeitus was arrested in Allston after officers observed him attempting to snort cocaine. He admitted the facts of the case and was eventually released on probation and agreed to submit to random testing.

A few months later, Zemeitus was arrested on charges he used a stolen credit card to buy a 50-inch television worth nearly $800 from Best Buy in Dedham. The charges were eventually dismissed, part of a pattern over the years that has allowed Zemeitus to avoid serving time in prison.

In the summer 2010, Zemeitus was pulled over in South Boston by a state trooper who noticed that a dark plastic lens covered Zemeitus’s license plate and that the windows of his black Chrysler appeared to be tinted illegally. The trooper searched the car and found a set of brass knuckles, with a sharp edge, and a 1,500 kilovolt Cheetah Stun Gun, which Zemeitus was not licensed to carry. Those charges were eventually dismissed, after a judge ruled the search was done improperly and could not be used as evidence.

A few months later, police arrested Zemeitus for allegedly tailgating a 39-year-old woman in Quincy, weaving menacingly around her car, yelling profanities, spitting on her car, and threatening her, all while he had his newborn daughter in the back seat. Prosecutors recommended that the case be continued without a finding for six months, but it is unclear from the records how the case was resolved.

Over the next few years, there were other arrests. Records say police found Zemeitus and another man sitting in a car with hypodermic needles full of heroin in West Quincy; he was seen on video stealing a cellphone from a cashier at a Milton Shell gas station; and he was taken into custody for driving with a suspended license after an officer in South Boston had suspected him of buying cocaine, again with his young daughter in his car. He was required to serve a period of probation in each of those cases.

Zemeitus has also been ticketed for speeding nine times, often in Milton, and has been cited for violating driving rules, such as failing to wear a seat belt, for which he has been ticketed 15 times, records show.

Police in Sharon and the Norfolk district attorney’s office are now investigating Zemeitus for his role in the alleged extortion, which has not produced any charges. He and the rabbi, who resigned from his post this month, exchanged hundreds of e-mails over the past two years, in which Zemeitus promised to destroy pictures he claimed to have of the rabbi engaging in sex acts with the teenager.

No evidence has emerged so far in court records that Zemeitus has a brother or that he ever had incriminating evidence against the rabbi.

More coverage:

Exposure threats e-mailed to Sharon rabbi

Rabbi allegedly paid to hide liaison with youth

Rabbi sued by congregant who says loan not repaid

Longtime Sharon Rabbi abruptly resigns

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.
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