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Quincy man pleads guilty to extortion against former Sharon rabbi in sex scandal

A 31-year-old Quincy man has admitted to extorting a former rabbi in Sharon who was ensnared in a sex scandal, prosecutors say.

Nicholas Zemeitus, pleaded guilty Thursday in Norfolk Superior Court to extortion and larceny charges in a scheme to blackmail Barry Starr, the longtime rabbi of Temple Israel in Sharon.

Starr, 65, resigned his position last year as the scandal came to light.

Prosecutors said he probably paid Zemeitus $458,300 between 2012 and 2014, including more than $360,000 from a rabbi discretionary fund that supported good deeds in the community, after Zemeitus threatened to publicize allegations that Starr had a sexual relationship with an underage boy.

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Zemeitus told investigators that he first encountered Starr when he went to Starr's home after responding to an online listing for a sexual encounter with an older woman. When Zemeitus arrived, he was greeted by Starr, who answered the door in woman's clothing, Zemeitus told authorities.

He said he became upset and that Starr gave him $100 to keep quiet, court records show.

Later, in December 2011, Zemeitus e-mailed Starr and threatened to go public with the underage sex allegations, which Starr repeatedly denied while conceding that he made mistakes in his life, court records show.

Authorities found no evidence that Starr had sex with minors, but investigators learned that he viewed online postings for transsexual escorts and apparently cheated on his wife with men, District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey's office wrote in a court filing Thursday.

In the filing, prosecutors recommended a six-to-eight-year prison term for Zemeitus, whose sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 3.

Starr, prosecutors wrote, has divorced and is no longer a rabbi.

"There is no way to restore Starr," the filing said. "His secret life has been exposed."

In addition, the government said, members of Temple Israel were also victims, since checks they had given to the discretionary fund were altered from their original sums and deposited at much higher amounts to accounts belonging to Zemeitus and his wife, Alexa Anderson. She faces related charges in the case.

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Banking information from some of the checks was used to pay the couple's personal expenses and to wire additional funds to their accounts, prosecutors said.

Zemeitus's lawyer could not be reached for comment Friday.

"The Temple Israel community was devastated by the actions of [Zemeitus] and Starr," prosecutors wrote. "Not only was it shocked by the fall of their spiritual leader, its congregants were the victims of thefts and the entire congregation was forced to examine their accounts" and temple security.

In a victim impact statement, one member of the congregation wrote that she was a cash-strapped single mother who donated to the fund, only to learn she had been fleeced in the scheme.

"Like many victims, I want justice," she wrote. "Money was stolen from me and from the needy within my community to whom the donation was supposed to go."

Starr also faces criminal charges in the case.

He pleaded not guilty in June to larceny and embezzlement charges for allegedly raiding the discretionary fund to pay Zemeitus. Prosecutors say Starr replenished the fund with money he received from performing funerals and other services, but still owed $67,000 to the discretionary account when the alleged blackmail stopped in April 2014.

In a recent letter to prosecutors, Starr's lawyer, Scott P. Lopez, asked the government to dismiss the indictment against the former rabbi, so he can provide "necessary testimony" against Zemeitus as a crime victim, without incriminating himself.

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"Solely as a result of the deplorable conduct of Mr. Zemeitus . . . Rabbi Starr's life has been wholly devastated," Lopez wrote.

He said that despite the government's recognition that Zemeitus's claims of sexually inappropriate behavior with underage victims were unfounded, Starr "continues to be falsely portrayed as both a child predator and a thief" rather than a victim of Zemeitus's crimes.

Prosecutors, however, are "not inclined" to dismiss the indictment pending against Starr, said Morrissey's spokesman, David Traub.

A hearing in Starr's case is scheduled for Thursday. He could not be located for comment.


David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report.