Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: The L.A. mafia connection

August 27, 2008 | 11:02 am

A story in Tuesday's paper detailed the federal racketeering charges levied against Israeli crime bosses Meir and Itzhak Abergil. The pending U.S. extradition request is just the latest twist for the duo believed to head one of Israel’s top five crime families.

The pair has been under investigation by Israeli and American authorities for years, and Itzhak Abergil dodged a drug trafficking charge in the Netherlands in 2004.

They and other prominent Israeli crime families have evaded local prosecution for years, partially because the vast majority of their criminal activities, such as ecstasy trafficking, took place outside Israel. Among those activities, according to the 77-page indictment, was an alliance with the Vineland Boys, a San Fernando Valley gang, to distribute ecstasy.

But on July 28, 31-year old Marguerita Lautinare was killed in front of her husband and two children in an Israeli beachside restaurant — a bystander to a failed hit allegedly ordered by Abergil. The incident horrified and mobilized Israeli public sentiment, and may also have provided authorities with crucial evidence against the Abergils.

Both of the hit men were apprehended and the brothers were arrested just over a week later and charged with ordering the hit as part of an internal family dispute.

"Someone apparently talked," said one criminologist. "This is what allowed Abergil to be arrested."

Israeli authorities apparently couldn't resist toying with Itzhak Abergil when informing him of the U.S. charges. According to his lawyer, the police first informed Abergil he was being released and the local charges against him would be dropped for lack of evidence. Then they returned a half-hour later and re-arrested him on the U.S. indictment.

The American charges aren’t necessarily connected to any of the Israeli allegations. But the two justice departments have been coordinating for years to investigate Israel’s crime families, which operate extensively in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Abergil’s actual extradition might take as long as a year. His prosecution will likely be modeled on the case of convicted mob boss Ze’ev Rosenstein, who grew into one of the world top ecstasy traffickers while evading the law for more than 20 years.

Rosenstein was arrested in 2004 in a joint U.S.-Israeli operation, and extradited to America. A U.S. Federal court sentenced him to 12 years in prison, and returned him to Israel to serve out his sentence.
Most importantly, the witnesses whose testimony helped convict Rosenstein entered the US federal witness protection program — something that’s still being developed in Israel.

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from all over the Middle East, as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "LA Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.