'Laundered US cash may be from Israel'

Rabbi detained used Israeli source to supply money; 44 arrested for money laundering and corruption.

By E.B. SOLOMONT, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
July 25, 2009 03:51
'Laundered US cash may be from Israel'

Kassin corruption 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

At least some of the millions of dollars allegedly laundered by five of the rabbis arrested last week in the US came from Israeli sources, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to court documents obtained by the Post, one of the rabbis detained, Eliahu Ben-Haim, used a source in Israel to supply money through "cash houses" in exchange for a 1.5 percent fee. Mickey Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police, said Friday that Israeli police had not been involved in the investigation. He declined to comment further. Former Jerusalem Police chief Mickey Levy said Friday that Israeli authorities were not yet involved, but he didn't rule out such cooperation at a later stage in the probe. In an interview on Israel Radio, he stressed that there was "no investigation against the Jewish community, only against alleged criminals." The FBI revealed, however, that among the 44 people arrested on Thursday was a second Israeli accused of sourcing cash. Authorities arrested Levi Deutsch, charging him with funding the bank checks that passed through the rabbis' charitable organizations, according to court documents. Deutsch reportedly traveled frequently between Israel and New York, and told the FBI's cooperating witness that his source of cash was the "diamond business" and "other things." He also said he worked with a Swiss banker who charged "two, three points" per $1 million laundered through him. As details emerged following the dramatic sting, it appeared that the FBI case hinged on a key cooperating witness, believed to be Solomon Dwek. Dwek, a member of the Syrian Jewish community and the son of a prominent rabbi, Isaac Dwek, who is affiliated with Shas, was charged with bank fraud in 2006. Portrayed as a disgraced real estate mogul in media reports, Dwek was arrested by the FBI after he passed two $25m. checks and immediately tried to withdraw $22m. One of the bad checks was deposited in a drive-up window at PNC bank. Dwek was forced into bankruptcy, with creditors - including an uncle - demanding hundreds of millions of dollars. But Dwek apparently began working with the FBI as a cooperating witness, infiltrating a money-laundering network in New Jersey and Brooklyn. The case also involved political corruption in New Jersey, when one of the money laundering suspects introduced Dwek to a building inspector who in exchange introduced him to public officials willing to accept cash for political favor. Dwek effectively posed as a shady real estate developer who passed money to lawmakers in exchange for support of his projects. Shock waves reverberated through the Syrian Jewish community in New Jersey over the weekend following Thursday's arrests of prominent rabbis, mayors and other elected officeholders. In the money-laundering scheme that ensnared high-profile rabbis in the tight-knit Syrian Jewish community, several were released after posting bail, including Saul Kassin, the 87-year-old spiritual leader for 75,000 Syrian Jews in New York. Kassin's layer, Robert G. Stahl, said his client is innocent and he is "confident that the truth will come out" and he will be able to clear his name. The massive scandal broke Thursday morning, when hundreds of federal agents stormed 54 locations, rounding up political figures and prominent rabbis on charges of money laundering and political corruption. Prosecutors also charged Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, 58, of Brooklyn, for allegedly acquiring and trading human organs. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum convinced people in Israel to donate their kidneys for $10,000 and then sold them for up to $160,000. Officials moved in following an investigation into two separate criminal enterprises: a cadre of corrupt politicians who accepted cash bribes - sometimes in cereal boxes - in exchange for political favor. Authorities charged the rabbis from New Jersey and New York with laundering tens of millions of dollars through charities, some legitimate and some not, in the United States, Switzerland and Israel. Among those arrested Thursday were Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarano, Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell, Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini, state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith and state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt. Ridgefield Mayor Anthony Suarez, who is also an attorney, is charged with agreeing to accept an illegal $10,000 cash payment for his legal defense fund. Cammarano said Friday he would not resign, and that the corruption charges filed against him were "baseless." Cammarano is accused of accepting $25,000 in bribes from a federal informant posing as a real estate developer. His attorney Joseph Hayden said his client is "innocent of these charges. He intends to fight them with all his strength until he proves his innocence." While Cammarano maintained his innocence, the sting resulted in the resignation of state Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria. Doria tendered his resignation abruptly after FBI agents searched his office; he was not charged with any crime. In the case against the rabbis, federal agents arrested Kassin; Ben-Haim, 58, rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal; Edmond Nahum, 56, of the Deal Synagogue; Mordechai Fish, 56, of Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn; and Lavel Schwartz, 57, Fish's brother. They were charged with money laundering, and according to the FBI, earned "significant" sums, typically between five percent to 10% per transaction. Court documents portray Kassin as a power broker of sorts, who acted as a central banker for other rabbis washing money on smaller scales. According to court documents, Dwek approached Kassin through two intermediaries, including Nahum, who told Dwek that "Kassin is the best." Armed with checks he claimed came from the sale of fake designer handbags, Dwek told Kassin he could not have the money traced to him. Kassin allegedly took $2,500 and issued Dwek a check from a charitable account. Between June 2007 and December 2008, Kassin allegedly laundered $200,000 for Dwek. But even as some members of the community defended the venerated rabbi, other simply expressed shock following the arrests. "The community is shocked and saddened by these allegations, which go against every value and teaching the community holds dear," said David Greenfield, executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, in a statement. "It's beyond comprehension," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, who represents Orthodox neighborhoods in the borough. He said his phone was ringing off the hook with callers expressing the same disbelief. "New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation," said Ed Kahrer, who heads the FBI's white-collar and public corruption division. "Corruption is a cancer that is destroying the core values of this state." Gov. Jon Corzine said: "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated." Federal prosecutors in the US said the investigation focused on a money laundering network that operated between Brooklyn; Deal, New Jersey and Israel. The network is alleged to have laundered tens of millions of dollars through Jewish charities controlled by rabbis in New York and New Jersey. Among the 44 people arrested were the mayors of Hoboken, Ridgefield and Secaucus, Jersey City's deputy mayor, and two state assemblymen. A member of the governor's cabinet resigned after agents searched his home, although he was not arrested. All but one of the officeholders are Democrats. Also, five rabbis from New York and New Jersey - two of whom lead congregations in Deal - were accused of laundering millions of dollars, some of it from the sale of counterfeit goods and bankruptcy fraud, authorities said. Others arrested included building and fire inspectors, city planning officials and utilities officials, all of them accused of using their positions to further the corruption. The politicians arrested were not accused of any involvement in the money laundering or the trafficking in human organs and counterfeit handbags. Most of the defendants facing corruption charges were released on bail. The money laundering defendants faced bail between $300,000 and $3 million, and most were ordered to submit to electronic monitoring. AP contributed to this report.•


Related Content

F35 Adir fighter jet
June 21, 2018
US F-35 diplomacy with Ankara puts Washington in Catch-22

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN