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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Sept/Oct 2009, Pages 20-21

Special Report

FBI Takes a Bite out of Jewish Organized Crime and Political Corruption

By Delinda C. Hanley

A man is brought from a bus in handcuffs to federal court in Newark, NJ, July 23, 2009. Three New Jersey mayors and five rabbis were among 44 arrested in a sweeping federal investigation into corruption that also uncovered human kidney sales and money laundering from Brooklyn to Israel, authorities said. (Reuters/Chip East)

Headlines and photos in the mainstream media shocked readers on July 24, 2009: “Rabbis, Politicians Snared in FBI Sting." Scenes of agents rounding up manacled suspects, including five black-clad rabbis, three New Jersey mayors and two state assemblymen, ran for a day—then the story mostly dropped out of sight, except in local papers or the Jewish press.

Those newspapers, including the New York Daily News, took to task the FBI’s informant, the son of a prominent New Jersey rabbi, a “Syrian Jew" named Solomon Dwek, who was arrested in 2006 for trying to cash $50 million in bad checks from the PNC Bank.

Dwek, a major real estate developer and gambling boat owner, helped set up stings for the FBI and IRS initially to help expose international money-laundering in Brooklyn and New Jersey, authorities said. The five rabbis, including one octogenarian, were charged with laundering “tens of millions of dirty money" they received from Dwek through nonprofit charities, yeshivas and synagogues they ran. Prosecutors say Dwek told the rabbis the money came from illegal sources, including fraudulent bank loans and sales of knockoff designer handbags. The religious leaders would allegedly deposit Dwek’s cashiers checks as charitable contributions. In return the rabbis gave Dwek “clean cash," keeping anywhere from 10 to 15 percent for themselves or their charities.

Dwek also “led the feds to a Brooklyn rabbi, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who allegedly boasted that he had been helping to peddle human organs on the black market for a decade," according to a New York Post article published July 28. “On tapes, Rosenbaum allegedly refers to himself as a ”˜matchmaker’ who could find an Israeli donor for a ”˜schmear,’ or money—specifically willing to trade a kidney for $160,000." (This raises more questions, since for religious reasons many Jews are averse to donating their own body parts.)

Solomon Dwek’s undercover work also spotlighted what has become business as usual in American politics. “Dwek and his wife made more than $190,000 in campaign contributions from 1998 through 2006 to a broad array of political leaders, including Democratic members of Congress, Republican state senators, and both parties’ state committees," according to The Record, a Bergen County, NJ publication.

The presumably corrupt politicians accepting outright bribes during this particular FBI sting include the mayors of Hoboken, Secaucus and Ridgefield, NJ, as well as the Jersey City council president. Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano was caught on tape bragging, “I could be indicted and still get 85 to 95 percent of the vote," according to officials.

This may be only the beginning of illegal activities exposed by the sting. Dwek turned in 44 people, said Sam Antar, another Jewish former informant who provided evidence against his cousin, Eddie Antar, and other criminals in the late 1980s. “When you have 44 people worried about going to jail, some of them are going to turn in other people. That’s what the government does. It flips witnesses," he told The Jewish Week in New York on July 28.

“You have here an alleged crime that was committed by a group of people who shared several common characteristics," explained Antar. “Religion, race, ethnicity and social background. It’s no different than other organized conspirators, like the mob, the Eastern European gangsters, the South American cartels. When you build bonds between people, their crimes can go undetected for very long periods of time."

While insisting that the vast majority of Syrian Jews are law-abiding, Antar said that the community’s tight-knit nature and deep level of trust provide a natural framework for keeping secrets.

Inexplicably, the wrath of the Jewish community is focused not on the accused lawbreakers, but on the informant who agreed to wear the wire for the FBI. An Aug. 9, 2009 Haaretz article quotes two sources from the Dwek’s tight-knit Syrian Jewish community in Deal, NJ who said Rabbi Israel Dwek delivered a blistering speech about his son, in which he denounced the actions of a Jew being an informant against fellow Jews.

On a Jewish radio program attorney Sam Hirsch said Dwek should face stiff retribution because of his role as an informant. “This person should have been killed," he told “Talkline" host Zev Brenner on July 25.

The Streets of New York

It’s been more than half a century since big-time Jewish mobsters captured such lurid headlines. In the late 19th and 20th centuries Jewish immigrants vied with Italian and Irish street gangs for control of New York streets. During prohibition (1920-1933) Jewish gangsters got involved with bootlegging and played a prominent role in the creation of organized crime in the United States. Americans readily talk about the Italian mafia, but many have forgotten that Jewish gangsters like Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Abe Bernstein helped establish a thriving underworld.

In 1989, Ron Gonen, an Israeli cocaine dealer, was arrested by narcotics agents in Long Island and turned state’s witness. Gonen gave authorities a chilling account of crimes committed by an Israeli gang and its leader, Yehuda “Johnny" Attias, including importing vast quantities of heroin from Amsterdam to New York, the largest gold heist in Manhattan’s history, racketeering and murder. For the next few months FBI agents listened in on Gonen’s deals and eavesdropped on his phone calls, just as they did with Dwek 20 years later. As a result, the Israeli mafia in New York disintegrated for a while, its leaders either dead, imprisoned or in hiding back home in Israel. Gonen now warns in his tell-all book, Blood and Volume, that the sons of the Israelis he knew in the 1980s have grown up to be gangsters involved in organized crime today.

Five years ago or more an Israeli syndicate surfaced in the U.S. and cornered the sale and distribution of the party drug ecstasy. In fact, Israeli criminals now have a finger in many lucrative pies all over the world:extortion, illegal gambling, drugs, money laundering, real-estate and insurance fraud, prostitution and human trafficking.

When high-rolling mobsters from six rival Israeli families began trying to assassinate each other in the summer of 2003, mainstream U.S. media were shy in their reportage, but the gangs garnered plenty of headlines in Israel and the Jewish-American weekly Forward. On July 31, 2003, Aharon Masika, known by his nickname“The Assassin," was killed by a man dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb who fired one shot between Masika’s eyes at point-blank range. Another of Israel’s most feared mobsters, Yisrael “Alice" Mizrahi, a leader of the Israeli Mafia operating in Brooklyn during the 1980s, was blown up near his Tel Aviv office in what police called a “super-professional" job.

A Dec. 11, 2003 attempt—the sixth in one year—to bump off reputed crime boss Ze’ev Rosenstein in downtown Tel Aviv killed three passersby and wounded 33. Days earlier, Rosenstein had been brought in for questioning on suspicion of ordering the assassination of two rivals.

The Israeli cabinet met on Dec. 14, 2003, and ordered the police to step up their fight against organized crime. Police officials soon came under fire for misconduct, and covering up murder evidence. According to Israeli police chief David Cohen, crime syndicates had penetrated local governments and the formal economic sector, and equipped themselves with large quantities of explosives and arms.

In November 2005 a Yediot Ahronot crime reporter wrote that the only force capable of standing up to Israel’s crime families was the U.S. government. The gang war has continued, “and left a string of bodies across Israel, Europe and South America...as rival Israeli crime families struggled for control," according to a Forward article published Dec. 20, 2005.

In 2006 Ze’ev Rosenstein became the first Israeli crime boss to be extradited to the U.S. He pleaded guilty to distributing ecstasy pills in Florida and was sent back to Israel to serve a 12-year sentence. (Israel amended its 1978 law barring the extradition of its criminals in 1999, on condition that they serve their sentences in Israel.)

Other small-time Israeli mobsters followed, and on July 28, 2009, the Jerusalem District Court ordered Yitzhak Abergil, his brother, Meir, and three other members of the notorious Abergil gang to be extradited to the U.S. on charges including drug dealing, extortion, money-laundering and murder. According to The Jerusalem Post, this ruling marks the first time that Israel and the U.S. have acted on a recently signed protocol between the two countries providing for the reciprocal extradition of alleged criminals suspected of belonging to a crime organization.

All Americans should welcome efforts by the Israeli police and the FBI to close down Israeli and American crime syndicates. No one is above the law, be they financiers like convicted Bernie Madoff, real estate tycoons like Dwek, rabbis, or politicians. No one wants to see organized crime rivals killing each other, and innocent passersby, on lawless hometown streets. 


Delinda C. Hanley is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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