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Israeli Mob & Las Vegas Ecstasy Trade

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    Israeli Mobsters Muscling Their Way Into Las Vegas Ecstasy Trade By Seamus McGraw Forward 9 July 2004
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 2004
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      Israeli Mobsters Muscling Their Way Into Las Vegas Ecstasy Trade

      By Seamus McGraw

      Forward
      9 July 2004

      http://forward.com/main/article.php?ref=mcgraw200407071147

      It's been half a century since Las Vegas, that glittering Mecca of
      excess and indulgence in the Nevada desert, was last in the thrall
      of big-time Jewish mobsters. Even then, the godfathers -- men like
      Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky -- were U.S. born and as distinctly
      American as Vegas itself.

      But recently, authorities say, a new strain of Jewish mobster has
      started to do business there -- a breed as tough and prickly as an
      Israeli cactus, with roots that stretch though South Africa,
      Eastern Europe, Jerusalem and the suburbs of Tel Aviv.

      Law enforcement officials told the Forward that the Israeli
      syndicate -- including associates of the violent and bloody
      Jerusalem Network -- recently has infiltrated the city's
      underworld and nearly cornered a niche in the city's illicit drug
      trade, establishing an almost unchallenged monopoly over the sale
      and distribution of the party drug Ecstasy.

      "Just like the Mexican mafia out here is responsible for a good
      deal of the methamphetamine distribution, the Israeli guys seem to
      be kind of out in front of the Ecstasy trade," said Sergeant Scott
      Killebrew of the Las Vegas police department's intelligence unit.

      Killebrew contends that the Israeli mobsters -- among them men
      alleged to be key lieutenants to Itzhak Abergil, reputed boss of
      the Jerusalem Network -- not only dominate Ecstasy importation in
      Las Vegas, but have cultivated strong ties with the owners of many
      popular late-night hot spots in the city, giving them a powerful
      distribution network.

      "We have information that these guys... are responsible for
      Ecstasy import into Las Vegas," Killebrew said. "Some of our
      sources have told us that they have connections in the late-night
      club scene, which is where this stuff is readily available... and
      used."

      What's more, although Israeli mobsters dabble in other crimes,
      including extortion, money laundering, real-estate fraud and
      insurance fraud, they largely have contented themselves with what
      is essentially a boutique business in the world of organized
      crime.

      It is, said Killebrew and others, a mutually beneficial
      arrangement between the drug dealers and the club owners --
      promoters, they call themselves. "They try to separate themselves
      a little bit, but the promoters are actually kind of involved,"
      Killebrew said. "Some of these promoters... are able to produce a
      great crowd at an after-hours party because... this stuff is
      readily available and a crowd is going to be more apt to come to
      that joint."

      It is also an arrangement that has produced little friction
      between Israeli mobsters and other factions of the Las Vegas
      underworld. Because Vegas lures partiers from all over the world
      with the promise of seemingly unbridled hedonism (consider the
      town's slogan, "Vegas: What Happens Here Stays Here" ), shadowy
      businessmen who specialize in vice can count on an almost endless
      flow of customers. "The market is certainly big enough" so that
      mobsters don't have to compete with each other for clients,
      Killebrew said.

      As in almost all businesses, success breeds success. Because the
      Israeli mob has become so dominant, Killebrew said, there is
      little chance that anyone else will try to step into the Ecstasy
      trade. "I mean, the potential for problems is there," Killebrew
      said, "but without a network of distribution in a club, you really
      have no... ability to distribute. You're just one guy."

      Recently, however, authorities have begun to move against the
      alleged activities of the Jerusalem Network in Las Vegas.

      Although agents for the drug task force have not charged any of
      the suspected Israeli mobsters with narcotics trafficking, in
      April federal prosecutors in Los Angeles quietly unsealed an
      indictment charging five reputed members of the Jerusalem Network
      with a raft of crimes, including money laundering and extortion.

      Among those named was 39-year-old Gabriel Ben Harosh, a man
      alleged to have close ties to Abergil, the reputed Israeli mob
      boss who is alleged to be one of the driving forces in a bloody
      gang war between two Israeli crime families -- a war that has
      claimed victims in Israel, South Africa and elsewhere.

      Although his Las Vegas lawyer, David Chesnoff, describes the
      Moroccan-born Ben Harosh, who is being held in Toronto and is
      awaiting extradition, as "a legitimate businessman [who is]
      looking forward to his day in court," federal investigators in a
      sworn affidavit insist that he is a "a high-ranking member of an
      Israeli organized crime syndicate."

      Also named in the indictment is Hai Waknine, a 32-year-old Israeli
      who, according to published reports, has a reputation around the
      Las Vegas tables as a high roller with a penchant for pretty young
      prostitutes. Authorities contend in the indictment that Ben
      Harosh, Waknine, Yoram El-Al and Thanh Nguyen, along with Sasson
      Barashy, a 47-year-old who is in custody in Israel and is reputed
      to be a longtime associate of the Jerusalem Network, were in
      almost constant touch with overseas contacts, many of them reputed
      members of the Israeli mafia. Authorities also are seeking
      Waknine's brother, Assaf.

      Using wiretaps and surveillance, investigators say they collected
      evidence showing that members of the gang used threats and
      intimidation to extort money from, among others, a luxury car
      dealer in Beverly Hills, Calif., at one point threatening the man
      with grievous bodily harm if he didn't surrender his lavish home
      to settle a debt. The authorities also allege that the gang used
      banks and lawyers in Los Angeles, Miami and Spain to launder
      money, which, authorities charge, was used in part to finance drug
      deals.

      Throughout the 14-month investigation, Ben Harosh, the Waknines,
      and Barashy reportedly did little to lower their profile in Las
      Vegas. In fact, according to published reports, in April 2003, Hai
      Waknine and Barashy hosted a lavish Passover Seder at Bally's
      hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

      In an interview in June, Chesnoff, who also practices in Los
      Angeles and worked as part of the defense team for disgraced
      domestic diva Martha Stewart, insisted that the charges against
      Ben Harosh are without merit.

      "He's going to defend it vigorously," Chesnoff said. "There's
      absolutely no truth to the allegations... I'm very confident that
      we're going to be fully exonerated."

      The trial is set to begin in January.

      For his part, Killebrew said he would wait to see whether a jury
      finds Ben Harosh and his alleged associates guilty before
      assessing the impact that the charges might have on the Israeli
      mob's presence in Vegas.

      "These guys haven't been tried, and I don't want to make any
      judgments," Killebrew said. "I just believe, I believe that
      they're responsible for a good portion of the drug trade that
      happens here."

      All the same, he is hopeful that the "these recent indictments
      will... curtail the problem for a while."

      The best that authorities can hope for, he said, is that the
      newfound pressure on the Israeli mob in Las Vegas might drive them
      out of town. "They might go someplace else," he said, or, "they
      might be more cautious."

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