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

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik meets with local leaders

On a break from her duties as Speaker of the Knesset, Dalia Itzik joined L.A. influentials for a dinner reception hosted by The American Friends of the Citizens’ Empowerment Center in Israel (CECI). The event, which took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Shapour Sedaghat, included Jacob Dayan, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles; professor Izzy Borovich, chairman of El Al Airlines; Izak Parviz Nazarian, president of CECI; Beny Alagem, and local leaders of American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, Jewish National Fund and Magbit Foundation.

Speaker Pelosi, Speaker Itzik talk tough on Iran at Hadassah conclave

As the personification of women’s empowerment, two of the most influential female politicians in the United States and Israel stood on the stage, greeted by the cheers of more than 1,800 delegates to the 94th national Hadassah convention.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik had telling messages, embroidered with some warm personal touches.

Pelosi let it be known that she was a mother of five and grandmother of seven, and later noted, “I have more Jewish grandchildren than anyone.” (A pardonable exaggeration, since she has only two Jewish grandkids, who, however, serenade her with “Happy Birthday to You” in Hebrew.)

Itzik couldn’t quite match Pelosi, but countered with her three children, all Jewish.

On the occasion, though, what was most on the minds of the two speakers was the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“We must take the madmen in Tehran seriously,” Itzik urged. “Their nuclear plans threaten not only Tel Aviv, but also New York and Los Angeles.”

Pelosi called for “far-reaching and tighter sanctions that recognize that Iran is a danger to the entire world,” adding that global security “demands that Iran give up its nuclear ambitions.”

The San Francisco Democrat, who led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel in May to help celebrate the nation’s 60th anniversary, demanded the return of Israeli hostages held by the Iran-supported Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists.

She said that the wife of hostage Eldad Regev had presented her with a set of her husband’s military dog tags.

“I wore the dog tags when I was meeting the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the president of Syria,” she said.

Pelosi also warmly praised the work of the Hadassah Medical Organization and its two medical centers in Jerusalem.

Noting that the Hadassah hospitals were open to anyone, regardless of race or religion, she told the delegates, “Hadassah accepts all patients, not because they are Jewish, but because you are Jewish.”

Pelosi also called for Jewish community support for a series of health-related bills, ranging from stem-cell research to Medicare reform, which passed both houses of Congress, but were vetoed by President Bush.

“But it won’t be long until these bills become law,” she promised. “The next president will sign them.”

Hadassah’s national president, Nancy Falchuck of Boston, standing between Pelosi and Itzik, referred to them jokingly as “Stereo Speakers” and praised them as pioneers who had shattered the glass ceilings in their respective countries.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has some 300,000 women members in the United States and an additional 30,000 male associate members.

The four-day convention at the Bonaventure Hotel ended Wednesday, July 16, after a crammed program of sessions, workshops and plenary addresses on current politics, the future of medicine, anti-Semitism, women’s health, information technology, being green and projects in Israel.

The opening event with Pelosi and Itzik concluded with a lengthy video presentation intertwining the histories of the State of Israel and Hadassah, from 1948 to the present.

Actor Henry Winkler inadvertently turned the fairly straightforward narration into somewhat of a comedy routine by repeatedly mangling the pronunciation of such words as “Ein Kerem” (the site of the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem) and “intifada.”

Both Winkler and the audience took the lapses in good humor, with the latter frequently shouting out the correct pronunciations. The show was saved by three lovely singers of the Ashira Trio and two talented male actors.

Two women, sitting on either side of this Journal reporter while watching the proceedings, represented two poles of Hadassah membership.

On one side sat Benita Ross of Canton, Mass., a veteran of Hadassah conventions for 30 years. Now serving as the organization’s national chair for Jewish and Zionist education, she represents five generations – from her grandmother to her granddaughter – of Hadassah activism.

On the other side was Svetlana Kaff, who personified the younger, professional women Hadassah is trying hard to attract.

The 34-year old immigration lawyer, one of three San Francisco delegates, arrived in this country as a 16-year old from Odessa and is the mother of two.

“I see few young persons here,” Kaff said. “The main problem is that if you have a job and children, there is very little time left for other activities.”

Kaff, who also volunteers for her city’s Jewish Family and Children’s Service and at her synagogue, said she joined her local Hadassah chapter “to give something back to my community.”

To avoid charges of minority and gender discrimination, The Journal also interviewed Elliott G. Spack, one of 75 members of the male Hadassah Associates attending the convention.

The Edison, N.J., resident is also part of an all-Hadassah family, consisting of his wife Barbara, a board member, and three daughters, all of whom attended Hadassah’s Young Judaea study programs in israel.

Spack, who retired as executive director of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, said that by joining the Hadassah Associates, he and other men “recognize the commitment of our wives and the importance of what they are doing.”