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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Diplomatic Security Service operating out of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv are in the midst of an ongoing fraud investigation against the Black Hebrews of Dimona, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In conjunction with Israeli authorities, the FBI and the Diplomatic Security Service - the US State Department's security branch - are investigating the Black Hebrews, their leader, Ben-Ami Ben-Israel, and his 11 deputies.
US authorities are investigating allegations of Social Security fraud and passport fraud, as members of the closed community are all American citizens and eligible to receive US benefits. The value of the fraud cases, authorities said, reaches into the millions of dollars.
Led by Ben-Israel - also known as Ben-Ami Carter, a former bus driver from Chicago - 350 African-Americans emigrated to Liberia in 1967 after Carter claimed to have seen in a vision that it was time to return to the Promised Land. The group, which claimed to be descendants of the ancient Israelites, eventually moved to Dimona in 1970 and has since attracted hundreds of additional African-Americans who have left the US and settled across the Negev.
The US probe into allegations of Social Security fraud and passport fraud is similar to a 2005 Israel Police probe into allegations of National Insurance Institute fraud, child abuse and the forgery of identity cards and passports.
The Israeli allegations are a product of a 2003 decision by then-interior minister Avraham Poraz to reverse the government's long-standing rejection of the Black Hebrews and to grant them permanent resident status, which entitled them to receive NII benefits.
"People who die don't really die but continue to walk throughout the community and collect a range of state-awarded benefits," said a senior NII official, explaining the type of allegations against the community. "People are buried and we are not informed that they have died. This way, they can keep on receiving state-granted benefits even from the grave."
Insp. Yoel Ashur, who headed an Israel Police task force that investigated the community at the beginning of 2005, told the Post of the allegations they investigated.
"We launched an investigation after hearing about suspicions of criminal activity in the community," he said. "There were general allegations that came up, dealing with fraud, child abuse and forgeries."
Ashur, who is now the deputy head of investigations for the Ashdod Police, said hard evidence was difficult to come by, and the task force was dissolved after police failed to infiltrate the community.
In a rare interview, Ben-Israel rejected the charges and claimed that none of his followers were engaged in criminal activity. He told the Post a plot was being hatched against him, one that involved politicians and public figures who were afraid of his community's success.
"The reason [for the allegations] is that people want to divert attention at home [Israel] and abroad of the collective achievements of the community in Israel," he said. "There are those who prefer not to see what we have achieved collectively with those people."
The full report will appear in Friday's Upfront.
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