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Terrorists or Fall Guys?

Accusations of bomb plots, secret meetings, setups, turncoats and terrorism between the FBI and the JDL.

by Mike Levy

December 20, 2001 | 7:00 pm

FBI, Secret Service, ATF and LAPD remove a box of guns from the home of JDL member Earl Krugel. Photo by Gene Blevins

FBI, Secret Service, ATF and LAPD remove a box of guns from the home of JDL member Earl Krugel. Photo by Gene Blevins

The Bust

Tuesday, Dec. 11, 9:45 p.m.

Jewish Defense League (JDL) Chairman Irv Rubin had just finished dinner at Jerry's Famous Deli in Encino and was en route to his Monrovia home, when law enforcement officers pulled him over and placed him under arrest.

Shortly before, his dinner partner, JDL West Coast Coordinator Earl Krugel, was arrested in his Reseda home. Both are accused of plotting to bomb a mosque and a congressman's office.

The alleged proof: The third dinner participant was wired by the FBI and taped conversations concerning the plots. In addition, explosives were unloaded at Krugel's home, just moments before the bust, according to law enforcement officials.

The Questions

As Rubin and Krugel await trial in the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles, questions swirl around the terrorism allegations. Did Rubin and Krugel really plot to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and Rep. Darrell Issa's San Clemente office, as the FBI alleges? Or were they set up by an overzealous informant of the bureau, eager to find a non-Muslim terrorist to demonstrate even-handedness in the post-Sept. 11 terror investigations?

The conspiracy evolved over a series of 11 meetings between Oct. 19 and Dec. 11, according to an FBI affidavit signed by Special Agent Mary P. Hogan. The meetings were secretly recorded by a participant-turned-informant, "a member of the JDL who has previously committed criminal acts on behalf of the JDL," according to the affidavit -- which, together with the taped meetings, form the basis of a grand jury investigation expected to return an indictment by Thursday, Dec. 27.

The 'Plot' (According to the Affidavit)

On Oct. 18, Hogan received a call from a confidential source (CS), who had been a JDL member since the CS was a teenager. The informant said he had been instructed by Rubin and Krugel to bomb a mosque and a tattoo parlor in Reseda.

The next day, according to the affidavit, the source visited Krugel in his Reseda home, discussed "bombing Arab-related institutions in the Los Angeles area" with Krugel and Rubin and tape recorded the meeting. On the tape, Rubin says Arabs need a "wake-up call" and that the JDL must show that it is alive in "a militant way."

The CS told authorities that Rubin had a list of mosques and other potential targets. He referred to the offices of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

Before the next meeting, Hogan met with the CS in person, providing a concealed recording device.

Most of the 10 meetings that followed over the next two months do not include Rubin.

On Nov. 4, Krugel and the CS drove to a Ventura Boulevard bagel shop, where they agreed to manufacture a bomb at Krugel's home, according to the affidavit. On Nov. 8, they met at The Stovepiper, a Northridge bar.

In four more meetings at Krugel's home, Krugel and the informant developed and progressed in their bomb-making scheme, authorities said. The alleged plan was to bomb the Los Angeles headquarters of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

On Dec. 8, according to the FBI, Rubin and the CS met at a Starbucks. The informant told Rubin that he had bought the explosive powder for the bomb. Rubin reportedly said he changed his mind, and he wanted to bomb a mosque instead of the MPAC offices. They allegedly agreed to meet again.

On Dec. 10, Krugel and the CS went shopping together in Woodland Hills, the affidavit says. At Home Depot, Krugel pointed out the type of pipes he wanted for the bomb and told the CS to buy end-caps for the pipes at another time to avoid suspicion, according to the papers.

The informant reportedly bought the pipes and went to Krugel's house to store them in the garage. They agreed to meet the next day to "finalize the plans for the bombing," according to the affidavit.

After a series of phone calls on Dec. 11, all three met at Jerry's Famous Deli in Encino. Again, Rubin announced a change of plans, authorities reported. The targets were allegedly changed to include both the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and the San Clemente office of Issa, a Republican of Lebanese descent. Issa sits on the Middle East subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee and dined with Yasser Arafat during a November Middle East trip.

While a number of mosques had been discussed as possible targets in previous meetings, the Jerry's Famous Deli dinner was the first time a politician was mentioned as a target, according to the affidavit. Leaving Jerry's, Krugel and the informant reportedly went to Krugel's house to unload the explosive powder from the informant's vehicle.

The Shakedown

Hogan listened to the deliberations. After the explosive powder was allegedly unloaded, FBI agents served a search warrant at Krugel's house.

They found all the bomb-making materials that the informant had delivered, as well as five handguns, six rifles and a shotgun. Some of the weapons were loaded. Hogan conferred with an FBI bomb technician, who informed her that "the materials found in Krugel's home could easily be assembled to make an explosive device."

Meanwhile, on his way home to Monrovia, Rubin was pulled over and arrested. His house was searched.

The next day, Rubin and Krugel were charged on two counts: conspiracy to destroy a building by means of explosives, and possession of a destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence.

The penalty: five years on the first count, and a no less that 30 years in prison for the second count.

The Holes

Rubin's and Krugel's lawyers question the government's evidence and motives. They believe their clients were setup by an agency desperate to display even-handedness against all ethnic groups in the wake of Sept. 11.

Among the questions they want answered:

Who is the confidential source? A formerly violent JDL member who had a change of heart? An FBI plant? Neither the FBI nor the U.S. attorney's office would comment on how or why the confidential source turned on the JDL.

(Krugel's twin brother, Barry, also a member of the JDL, gave The Journal the name of a man whom he said was the informant, but the information could not be independently confirmed. After a call was made to a phone number registered to the name supplied by Krugel, an anonymous caller phoned The Jewish Journal, advising "the best thing for you to do is forget that name," and insisting that "no member of the ... family has ever belonged to the JDL.")

The attorneys say the CS was the dangerous one, not their clients. Chuck Kreindler, defending Krugel, said Rubin and his client "were afraid this guy [the CS] would do something stupid." As for suggestions of violence, "Irv Rubin says this kind of stuff to the cameras, never mind in what he thinks is a private conversation."

Rubin's attorney, Peter Morris, pointed out that Rubin was only present at two meetings.

The Defense

The defense pointed fingers at the CS as the source for all criminal plans. "From the very beginning, when he met Irv and Earl, and especially since Sept. 11, he has heavily pushed violent action," Morris told The Journal. "He also suggested selling Ecstasy to support JDL activities."

Kreindler, Krugel's lawyer, claimed his client was "set up by a government agent." He said the plot "never would have even been discussed if not for the government agent." Kreindler believes the informant is "either paid by the FBI or got caught doing something and he's working it off."

The timing of the arrests may also raise some questions in the case. The government has suffered widespread criticism of its policies after Sept. 11 over detaining and questioning Arab nationals, Arab Americans and non-Arab Muslims.

Even before she had seen her husband on the afternoon after his arrest, Rubin's wife, Shelley, told The Journal, "They're looking to use him as a scapegoat to appease the Arabs, even if they have to make up the story." Barry Krugel told Reuters, "My brother owns a miniature cannon. It uses powder, so what?"

Shelley Rubin said that "Earl is [a] rockhound," perhaps alluding to the explosives found in Krugel's house. Rubin's 20-year-old son, Ari, said, "They're obviously trying to frame Dad."

It quickly became the JDL's party line. By Sunday, Dec. 16, visitors to JDL's Web site were greeted with a popup describing the arrests as "this obvious act of governmental appeasement of the Muslim community."

The Future: Days in Court

The day after the arrests, less than 12 hours after federal agents finished searching Rubin's home, the JDL suspects made their initial appearance before a judge to request bail. Rubin, in a gray sweater and khaki cargo pants, sat in front of U.S. Magistrate Victor Kenton as Morris argued that Rubin's ties to the community made him no flight risk or a danger to the community.

Morris characterized Rubin's work with the JDL as "work[ing] every day to fight terrorism." He asked for $100,000 bail.

Lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner, noting that Rubin had traveled to Israel in 1973 to help in Yom Kippur War, described flight to Israel, in face of a long sentence, as the "easy and logical thing for him to do." Charges listed in the government's criminal complaint included possession of an explosive device in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory minimum 30-year sentence. Jessner called the possible sentence for Rubin "akin to life for a man his age."

Kenton denied bail for both defendants. "I have rarely seen a case which, based on the evidence before me, evidences such a clear danger to the community," Kenton said.

Denied bail, Rubin and Krugel will remain in jail until and throughout their trial. If the federal grand jury does not return an indictment by Dec. 27, both will have a preliminary hearings on the merits of the cases against them. However, most observers expect an indictment by Dec. 27, which would allow the government to avoid a preliminary hearing at which the defense could cross-examine federal witnesses.

The Community Reacts

After the arrests, local Jewish leaders were quick to condemn the JDL and distance themselves from the organization. A statement released by the Anti-Defamation League on Dec. 12 "commends the FBI for its diligence."

Barry Krugel claims to be most upset about the lack of support for his brother from mainstream Jewish organizations: "I'm highly incensed by these Jewish flunkies denouncing Irv and Earl before they've even had a trial."

He describes ADL and other Jews who do not support JDL as "Encino-mentality Jews, frightened, weak, nebbish Jews who allowed the Holocaust."

Most mainstream Jewish organizations consider the JDL a fringe group, one that has caused frequent disturbances at community events.

"For more than a quarter of a century, ADL has been monitoring the contemptible activities of the JDL and its leadership," the ADL press release stated.

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