LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Five alleged Israeli mob members pleaded not guilty to charges including murder in U.S. federal court in Los Angeles.
Israeli brothers Meir and Yitzhak Abergil and three other Israelis were ordered held in prison without bond on Jan 14. They are charged with crimes ranging from murder and embezzlement to money laundering, racketeering and running a large L.A.-based Ecstasy ring. Yitzhak Abergil allegedly is the crime boss of the operation.
All five were extradited July 13 from Israel following a protracted legal battle to stand trial in Los Angeles federal court.
In addition, a federal grand jury indicted Yoram El-Al, who is considered one of the world’s major Esctasy dealers, and Luis Sandoval, who was charged as a member of the San Fernando Valley-based Vineland Boyz street gang, which is accused as the main distributors of the Ecstasy ring and as enforcers for the Israeli organizers.
After the 2008 grand jury indictment, Israeli police arrested the Abergil brothers and their associates.
An Israeli district court found the accused "extraditable" in 2009. The defendants appealed, but the Israeli Supreme Court rejected their petition last month.
Israeli courts have rarely agreed to extradite their citizens to other countries, in line with the Jewish tradition of not turning over Jews for trial in "Christian" courts. U.S. and Israeli officials have agreed that if found guilty, the defendants would not receive the death penalty and would serve any sentences in Israeli prisons.
Israeli police and media have frequently described the Abergils as bosses of one the country’s most powerful crime syndicates, with extensive overseas operations.
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’s Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, and Captain Greg Hall, who commands the Major Crimes Division, told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal several months ago.
While stressing the cooperation of the established Jewish and Israeli communities with the police, the two officers noted a gradual increase in crimes by Israelis, mostly in such white-collar felonies 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."