As part of a series of legal issues, he pleaded guilty in September 2014 to bribing a high-ranking Israeli police officer. He was sentenced on May 12, 2015, to one year in prison, and must pay a fine of 1 million shekels. He began serving his prison sentence on February 16, 2016.
Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto was born in Israel of Moroccan descent. On his father's side, he is the great-grandson of Chaim Pinto, a Moroccan sage; on his mother's side, he is the grandson of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Sali.
Pinto graduated from Ashkenazi Lithuanian yeshivas, and studied under Ashkenazi and Hassidic rabbis, including Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, director of the Lithuanian-style Ma'alot haTorah yeshiva located in Jerusalem. Pinto was also influenced by Satmar Hassidism and its teachings.
Pinto speaks Hebrew, and does not know English. Around 2008, Pinto moved to New York City for medical treatments. In the past few years, he spent time in either New York City or Ashdod, where he ran the Shuva Israel yeshiva.
Pinto is a rabbi and religious leader. Prior to recent legal issues, he had a following as a spiritual leader and is a Kabbalist. He is said to be the descendent of rabbinical dynasties that reportedly have the potential to work miracles. Pinto has many followers from the Israeli expatriate community in the U.S. and has been described as "a rabbi to the rich and famous".
When he was in his early 20s, Pinto founded Shuva Israel, a yeshiva in Ashdod, Israel. As founder he oversees an organization that includes two yeshivas in Ashkelon, one in Kiryat Malachi, three in Ashdod, and one in Rishon LeZion, with a total of 500 students to be rabbinical students in training. The organization also has two schools for girls in Ashdod and a training school in Ashkelon. One of the Israeli locations provides money for living expenses to 180 widowed women. Several yeshivas or religious schools located in the United States and Israel and sponsors a charitable organization that provides food for Israeli families in need. Pinto's center in Ashod has four synagogues that serve more than 1,200 worshippers, a yeshiva with over 300 full-time students, and a soup kitchen that provides 3,000 meals a day. Pinto has also established a network of yeshivas in Israel, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York in the U.S.
In October 2010, Pinto led thousands to Silistra, Bulgaria, for an annual pilgrimage in homage of Eliezer Papo, who is known for his book Pele Yoetz, and revered in Silistra for giving his life to save the town from a plague in 1826. During his stay in Bulgaria, Pinto held a closed meeting with 80 Jewish American businessmen, asking them to invest $5 billion in the Israeli economy.
Pinto is reported to have connections in the real estate community in New York, including an executive with Metropolitan Real Estate Investors and one with Ilan Bracha of Prudential Douglas Elliman. His followers include Jay Schottenstein (chairman of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing company) and real estate mogul Jacky Ben-Zaken. Pinto has been characterized as "something between a guru and a Hasidic rebbe" and as a "mystically inclined" Kabbalist with an interest in the esoteric elements of the Jewish tradition". Although Pinto has no formal business background, a number of prominent Israeli and Jewish-American businessmen have visited him for consultation on business and personal matters, including talk-show host Donny Deutsch; jeweler Jacob Arabo ("Jacob the Jeweler"); former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Prominent non-Jews who have consulted with Pinto include New York City politician Michael Grimm and basketball player LeBron James. Pinto has said that he does not consider his help to be advice, saying instead that "It’s more of a blessing". Politicians and businessmen who have visited Pinto in Israel include Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, former Bank of Israel governor Jacob Frenkel, and Israeli soccer star Guy Levy. Because of Pinto's influence, he has been called the "rabbi to the business stars", and was described by Yoel Hasson, a Kadima member of the Knesset, as having connections and influence with a number of people in Israeli politics.
When he is in New York, Pinto resides in a building owned by his downtown Manhattan non-profit, Mosdot Shuva Israel organization. In 2011, the building was under foreclosure, and his organization was reported to be facing financial problems.
According to an article in the Globes business journal, in June 2012, Forbes Israel named Pinto as one of the 10 wealthiest rabbis in Israel, "with a fortune of NIS 75 million" "based on organizational holdings" such as "charitable activities and properties".
In 2010, a reception held for Pinto was attended by an Israel Defense Forces major general and five cabinet members. In January 2011, Pinto met with opposition leader Israeli politician Tzipi Livni in Tel Aviv. In December 2010, Pinto condemned an open letter endorsed by 50 Israeli rabbis which encouraged Jewish community members to avoid renting or selling property to non-Jews. Pinto believed that the letter would provoke racism against Jews in Israel and abroad, making it difficult for them "to live in New York or anywhere else in the world".
In September 2011, Pinto's father-in law, the chief Rabbi of Argentina, Shlomo Ben Hamo, retracted accusations of money laundering against Pinto in the Jerusalem District Court. The father-in-law said the retraction was "part of an arrangement made for legal reasons and to preserve domestic tranquility". Under the terms of the agreement, Pinto was required to pay NIS 3.4 million for two apartments purchased by his father-in-law, in the Gold housing complex in Jerusalem, with funds that were allegedly obtained from Pinto.
On October 12, 2012 Pinto was reported to be under investigation for money laundering. He was released on bail and placed under house arrest for a bribery attempt of an Israeli police official involved in the investigation. On September 17, 2014, Pinto was indicted on charges of attempting to bribe Ephraim Bracha of the Israeli national police in an attempt to gain information about the ongoing investigation of the financial activities of Hazon Yeshaya, a charitable organization Pinto heads. Bracha had reported the bribery attempt to his superior, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, and was ordered by Segalovich to pretend to accept the bribe. In February 2015, the Supreme Court upheld Pinto's plea agreement under which he would serve a maximum of one year in jail and become a state witness. He returned to Israel on April 14, and pleaded guilty the next day to bribing Bracha. Judge Oded Mudrick found him guilty of bribery, attempted bribery, and obstruction of justice. Bracha, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, committed suicide on July 5, 2015 after being subjected to a prolonged campaign of defamation. Pinto was sentenced on May 12, 2015, to one year in prison, and must pay a fine of 1 million shekels. Appeals of the prison sentence on the basis of ill health were declined on January 5 and February 8, 2016. He arrived at prison on February 16, 2016, after a brief stay in an Israeli hospital to check on and treat his medical conditions, including cancer. On August 3, President Reuven Rivlin rejected Pinto's appeal for clemency. His appeal for early release due to ill health, initially granted on September 19, was later overturned by the Lod District Court on September 26. He was released from prison on January 25, 2017, upon completion of his sentence.
In February 2014, a civil suit was filed in New York State Supreme Court that claims Pinto and an aide orchestrated the arrest of a business rival and threatened him with physical harm.