January 19, 2011
Israeli alleged mobsters appear in L.A. court
Five Israeli alleged mob figures extradited to Los Angeles last week will spend a considerable amount of time in jail — and that’s before their trial starts.
Defense lawyer Victor Sherman and his colleagues have asked for additional time to get up to speed on the complex cases, and Sherman estimates that it will be several months before the accused will face a jury.
The slow pace is in contrast to the speed with which the five men were hustled aboard a plane at Ben-Gurion Airport on Jan. 12, and, on arrival in Los Angeles the next day, immediately arraigned before a U.S. magistrate.
Facing charges ranging from murder and massive embezzlement to money laundering, racketeering and running a large Los Angeles-based Ecstasy ring, the men have been described by the Israeli police and media as bosses and associates of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with far-flung operations across the globe.
Listed in the 77-page, 32-count federal indictment are Yitzhak Abergil, considered the top boss, and his brother Meir Abergil, reputedly in charge of finances and debt collection.
The indicted associates are Sasson Barashy, Moshe Malul and Israel Ozifa.
Two other defendants, Yoram El-Al and Luis Sandoval, remain fugitives sought by police. Sandoval is charged as a member of the San Fernando Valley-based Vineland Boyz street gang, which allegedly served as the main distributor of the Ecstasy ring and as enforcers for the Israeli organizers.
Members of the large community of Israeli expatriates in the Los Angeles area have described themselves as largely indifferent to the arrival of the alleged mobsters, but this may well change when the trial begins and media coverage kicks in.
A young ex-pat in the construction business, who asked not to be identified, said only, “I’m ashamed that these guys are being tried in the United States, rather than in Israel, because the Israeli police couldn’t put the evidence together.”
The voluminous indictment reads like a crime thriller in which law enforcement officials across Europe, Japan, North Africa and the United States apparently recorded every phone conversation and hotel meeting among the defendants.
Also carefully listed are the underworld monikers of the accused. Yitzhak Abergil is also known as The Friend, The Big Friend and The Man from the South; Ozifa is Israel the Tall or The Tall One; El-Al, aka The Wounded; and Sandoval as Barney Twin or Hog.
After a 2008 federal grand jury indictment in the United States, Israeli police arrested the Abergil brothers and their associates. An Israeli district court found the accused “extraditable” in 2009; the defendants appealed, but last month the Israeli Supreme Court rejected their petition.
Israeli courts have rarely agreed to extradite their nationals to other countries, and in this case U.S. and Israeli officials have agreed that if found guilty, the defendants will not receive the death penalty and will serve any sentences in Israeli prisons.
Israeli police and media have frequently described the Abergils as bosses of one of the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with extensive overseas operations. However, the accused, who have maintained their innocence throughout, have a different view.
In a recent interview on Israeli television, Meir Abergil modestly allowed that “we’re peanuts compared to the mafias they have in America. They have the Mexican cartels, the Italians, the Irish mafia, the Colombians. Who are we? Nothing, cockroaches.”
The Los Angeles Police Department has been concerned with Israeli crime in the city since the 1970s, as Deputy Chief Michael Downing who heads the LAPD Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, and Capt. Greg Hall, who commands the Major Crimes Division, told The Jewish Journal some months ago.
The two officers noted a gradual increase in crimes by Israeli nationals, mostly in such white-collar crimes as money laundering, tax evasion, real estate and financial frauds, but also in narcotics trafficking.
“Israeli crime here tends to be quite sophisticated and hard to track,” Hall said. “We’re worried about what may be going on that we don’t know about.”
However, police stressed the cooperation of the established Jewish and Israeli communities in pursuing criminal elements in their midst, and leading Israeli ex-pats were quick to draw a line between the law-abiding community and a few criminals.
“[The accused] are criminals and must be brought to justice, but I’m more concerned about some Jewish organizations in the United States that put their social justice ideologies before the security of Israel,” said Haim Linder, formerly vice president of the Council of Israeli Communities, L.A.
Amnon Peery, another Israeli ex-pat, observed, “I’m not embarrassed by [the Abergil case]. We live here, not there.”
Isaac Berman, a psychologist in private practice, took a more nuanced view.
“I’m unhappy that these men were extradited to the United States rather than put on trial in Israel,” Berman said.
“I don’t feel personally insecure here, but there is still anti-Semitism and racial bias in this country. We certainly don’t need more unflattering references to Israel.” l