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Former Sharon rabbi admits role in embezzling scheme

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Barry Starr at his arraignment in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A former Sharon rabbi who tapped into temple funds to pay off a blackmailer has admitted to financial wrongdoing in Norfolk Superior Court, but he could see all the charges against him dismissed if he is not charged with any crimes during the next 12 months.

Barry Starr, who was the rabbi at Temple Israel for 28 years, used the temple's discretionary charitable fund to pay $458,300 to blackmailer Nicholas Zemeitus between 2012 and 2014, according to the Norfolk district attorney's office and court records.

Appearing before Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove on Friday, prosecutors asked that Starr be found guilty of embezzlement by fiduciary and sentenced to two years probation. But Cosgrove adopted the defense's suggestion that Starr admit there were enough facts to convict him and continue the case without a finding for a year, which could lead to the charges being dismissed.


While married and the leader of the Conservative temple, Starr was secretly dating men when Zemeitus falsely told Starr one of the people he had been intimate with was his 16-year-old brother and threatened to reveal his actions, prosecutors said.

In court papers, Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Gregory P. Connor wrote that after an extensive investigation into Starr, his financial dealings, and his computer at the temple, no evidence had been found to back Zemeitus's allegation.

"The Commonwealth has not identified any evidence that Starr had sexual contact with underage minors nor possessed child pornography," Connor wrote. "It appears that Starr had adopted a gay lifestyle late in life that had resulted in him cheating on his wife. Due to his marriage and prominence in the community, Starr capitulated to the extortion.''

The blackmail scheme unraveled when Starr told Zemeitus he could no longer pay him, and Zemeitus responded by breaking into Starr's office, where he stole checks meant for the discretionary fund that he then deposited into his own account.


In 2015, Zemeitus pleaded guilty to extortion and was sentenced to four to five years in state prison, followed by three years probation.

Starr has repaid all but $67,000 back to the temple, but the temple is not pushing for full restitution or for Starr's imprisonment, prosecutors wrote in court papers. Temple president Edward Hershfield said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the congregation is looking to the future.

"He did a lot of good for a long period of time. It's a real tragedy,'' Hershfield said of Starr. "We are pleased the proceedings have come to an end. We are fully supportive of the district attorney's office and the decision the judge reached. . . . We really have moved on from this.''

Starr and his wife have divorced and he has moved to Ohio, records show.

His attorney, Scott Lopez, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.