The former No. 2 man in the Jewish Defense League (JDL) had his day in court last week and the only suspense was over how much time he would remain in prison. Earl Krugel, 62, has already spent close to four years in lockup over alleged terrorism charges. And in court, he learned that he could be in prison for as much as 16 years more.
The proceedings brought an apparent close to a case that briefly riveted national attention in the immediate wake of the terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists on Sept. 11, 2001. Krugel and JDL colleague Irv Rubin were accused of plotting to bomb a local mosque and the office of an Arab American congressman. No one associated with the targets had any ties to terrorism.
A young JDL member, who'd been recruited to participate in the plot, revealed it to federal authorities.
The sentencing marked the official denouement to the best-known public faces of the JDL, whose mantra called for Jews to defend themselves by any means necessary. The aborted anti-Arab terrorist plot was something of a last gasp for JDL leaders trying to reassert their relevance. The group and its adherents have virtually vanished from the American scene, although its ideological descendants continue to play a role in the body politic of Israel.
Under a deal struck some time ago with federal prosecutors, Krugel had pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and carrying an explosive to use in the attacks, which included plans to bomb the field office of Congressman Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista). Krugel's alleged co-conspirator, JDL head Rubin, died in prison in November 2002.
One charge, with its enhancement -- the use of explosives -- carried a mandatory sentence of 10 years. The range on the other count was probation to 10 years. At one point, the government voided the plea agreement, because prosecutors decided Krugel was not cooperating enough. Although the government's reasons for backing out of the deal and the response from Krugel's defense were filed under seal, the government was plainly dissatisfied with the extent of Krugel's cooperation in helping solve the 20-year-old murder of Arab American activist Alex Odeh and other unsolved crimes. Associates of the JDL have been suspects in the Odeh killing almost from the start. And Krugel's assistance apparently yielded little, if any, new information. In the end, prosecutors argued for a stern calculation of his sentence.
For his part, Krugel showed contrition in court as he asked for mercy.
"I regret joining a criminal conspiracy for the burden and shame it has brought to me and my family," he said, "and for the burden it has brought to the government and the court."
Krugel added: "This was carried too far. It became a plan for violent protest and not civic protest. Violence only begets violence." After "much soul-searching" in prison, he concluded, he had come to realize there are "good Arabs and bad Arabs just like there are good and bad Jews."
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S. W. Lew sided with prosecutors, giving Krugel the maximum 10-year jail term on top of the 10 years required for the other charge.
Lew said that he "did not believe [Krugel] was a changed man. People don't change like that overnight."
Lew added that Krugel's actions were "totally reprehensible and the sentence imposed was completely reasonable."
He also noted that Krugel's collection of guns had included a "machine gun, an aggravating fact as well."
Krugel will get credit for his three years and nine months in custody and could shave three years and eight months off his sentence with good behavior. Still, he won't be eligible for parole until he's at least 76.
What's left of the JDL is uncertain. Meir Kahane, who founded the JDL in 1968, emigrated from the United States to Israel in 1971, where he advocated the forcible expulsion of Arabs. Kahane was assassinated during a trip to New York City in 1990. His movement was outlawed in Israel, but still has adherents.
In the United States, however, a walk-in closet might be large enough to hold a board meeting of the local JDL faithful. And there's a chance those assembled would spend much of the time bickering or finger-pointing.
Krugel's wife, Lola, maintained outside the court that her husband is innocent and the victim of bad legal representation from a former attorney, which she asserts will form the basis of an appeal. Lew gave Krugel 10 days from sentencing to file a notice of appeal. Krugel's former attorney, Mark Werksman, dismissed Lola Krugel's criticism as ridiculous and factually baseless. Meanwhile, Irv Rubin's widow, Shelley, called Earl Krugel a traitor, while also asserting that her late husband had done nothing illegal.
Shelley Rubin told The Journal that she's furious with Krugel for pleading guilty and accusing her husband of criminal wrongdoing.
"Irv was his best friend, his best man at the wedding," she said. "How could he do this to him, when he is dead and can't defend himself?" she asked. "Friends meant something to my husband. He would never have done this to Earl."
Shelley Rubin claims control of the JDL leftovers, while another faction, headed by Ian Sigel, is battling over control of the JDL Web address, asserting that it is now the official JDL. Even while Rubin was alive there were divisions and conflicting claims of leadership. Critics sometimes dismissed Rubin and his cohorts as three guys and a megaphone, but authorities implicated the JDL in some very real and deadly crimes.
A million-dollar reward is still being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for assassinating Odeh, 41, the western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Odeh was killed by a pipe bomb as he tried to enter his Santa Ana office. Since then, the FBI has tried but failed to make a case against current or former members of the JDL, which has repeatedly denied any involvement by the organization and its leaders.
Regarding the Odeh murder, Krugel's third attorney, Jay Lichtman, said in court "Krugel had passed on to the government four names, which Rubin allegedly gave him. But the FBI responded that they were already aware of three of those people."
According to Robert Friedman's 1992 book, "The False Prophet -- Rabbi Meir Kahane: From FBI Informant to Knesset Member," three of the named individuals, Andy Green, Robert Manning and Keith Fuchs -- all former JDL members, actually surfaced as suspects within hours of the Odeh attack.
Green reportedly immigrated to Israel from New York City in 1975, where he met JDL founder Kahane. He then joined a West Bank settlement, and changed his name to Baruch Ben Yosef. In 1983 he moved back to his hometown, where he ran the office for Kach, another group Kahane started.
At one point, Green partnered with Manning in a private investigation firm. Manning, who hailed from Los Angeles, was convicted of a bomb attack against a Palestinian in 1973. He reportedly became Kahane's chief bombmaker. Prior to the Odeh killing, federal authorities claimed the pair carried out a number of bombings, mostly directed towards former Nazis and their collaborators.
Fuchs, another New Yorker, had also traveled to Israel. In 1983, he was convicted of shooting at a passing Arab-owned car in the West Bank. Israeli authorities eventually pulled him out of jail and put him on a plane back to New York. Today, Fuchs and Green are reportedly back in Israel. Meanwhile, Manning was extradited from Israel to California, where he was tried and convicted of a fatal letter-bomb attack that arose out of a business dispute. He is now serving a life sentence in state prison.
Since Green, Manning and Fuchs have been suspects in the Odeh investigation for nearly 20 years, it's unclear what more prosecutors wanted from Krugel in exchange for his reduced sentence. Much of the court record in the JDL case was filed under seal and remains secret.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Jessner asserted in court that Krugel had not cooperated fully, had not been totally honest and delayed almost five months before giving his FBI interrogators information about the alleged Odeh murder plotters.
Judge Lew said in court that Krugel had "failed several polygraphs."
The JDL also was investigated in recent years for an alleged role in an extortion scheme against black rappers Tupac Shakur and Easy-E. Both are now dead, Tupac from a bullet, and Eric Wright, a.k.a. Easy-E, from complications due to AIDS. That probe, by the FBI, with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, lasted from Oct. 17, 1996 to May 18, 1999, according to government documents. It was closed because investigators could not substantiate the allegations.
The key figure in the terrorism investigation was JDL recruit Danny Gillis, a former Navy seaman. Gillis had second thoughts about carrying out the bombings and contacted authorities. He agreed to help the FBI tape record his meetings with Rubin and Krugel. Those tapes became the centerpiece of the government's case.
In response to the sentencing, the office of Rep. Issa issued a statement thanking the FBI for "preventing the conspirators from carrying out their planned acts of terrorism and the many individuals, including the office of the U.S. attorney, who have worked to bring justice to those who participated in this plot."
Speaking on behalf of the King Fahd Mosque, Usman Madha, director of public relations said that he had no comment on whether Krugel's 20-year sentence was fair.
"I leave it to the wisdom of the court," he said. He added: "JDL is a fringe group that does not represent the Jewish mainstream. We have very good relationships with many Jewish rabbis and this has only strengthened them. People who do not learn the lessons of Sept. 11 will try and repeat them. I just thank God it didn't happen here."
At the court hearing, the speakers included Salam Al-Mayayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which was one of the conspirators' proposed targets, according to government tapes.
"I would like to appeal to you, your honor, for Earl Krugel to receive the maximum sentence for his crime to harm me, my institution, a mosque and a congressman's office," Al-Mayayati said. "Mr Krugel should be treated like any other terrorist."
Mainstream Jewish groups have consistently repudiated Krugel, Rubin and the JDL, but that didn't stop Linda Krugel from saying her brother had been abandoned by the Jewish community during the court case. This was "a dark day in American justice," she said. "My brother fought for 35 years to defend the Jews, and where are they when he needs them?"
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