One of the five, 87-year-old Saul Kassin, is rabbi of the largest Sephardic congregation in the country, The New York Times reports. He heads Shaare Zion in the New York borough of Brooklyn.
"Shock and disbelief -- my cell phone, my office phone, they're ringing off the hook," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn. "People do not believe it."
The Sephardic community is a close-knit one, centered in Brooklyn and Deal on the Jersey Shore. The investigation began with Solomon Dwek, a Deal resident who agreed to become an informant after he was charged with bank fraud.
The FBI says the rabbis agreed to help Dwek launder ill-gotten money, a total of $3 million, through charitable organizations associated with their congregations. In return, the charities would get 5 percent to 10 percent, authorities said.
Some members of the community are standing by their leaders.
"When the facts come out, we'll find out that those rabbis never broke the law," David Ben-Hooren, editor of Jewish Voice and Opinion, told reporters Thursday. "I believe they're going to be vindicated."