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In the second suspected gangland hit attempt in as many days, 60-year-old Ran "Freddy" Efrayim was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on the sidewalk on Thursday, only steps away from his south Tel Aviv apartment.
Efrayim, an art dealer, was allegedly part of the infamous New York Gang - an Israeli drug smuggling ring that operated in the Big Apple at the height of the cocaine craze of the eighties. He only returned to Israel in recent years after a long period in the US.
Efrayim was left bleeding from three bullet holes in his chest after an unknown motorcyclist fired seven shots at him on the corner of Rehov Wolfson and Rehov Ha'aliya, a street infamous for its gangland activity.
Although police and a MDA team rushed to the scene, Efrayim died of his wounds en route to Ichilov Hospital.
Investigators believe that the shooting may be related to gangland vengeance, like Wednesday's bombing attempt that seriously injured known criminal Shuli Rokach. Unlike that attack, however, police believe this suspected hit is tied events that occurred over a decade ago.
In the late eighties and early nineties, the so-called New York Gang collapsed at the height of its power, as rival gangsters in the syndicate broke into two factions and began to kill each other off.
While the bloodbath related to the gang's break-up seemed to stop in the early nineties, police believe that the hits picked up again in 2003. Since that year, three key players in the gang have all been murdered - and all three murders (the latest being Efrayim's) remain unsolved.
The now-defunct gang was established by a group of Israeli drug dealers and gangsters who decamped to New York and set up a cocaine and heroin smuggling ring.
Longtime Tel Aviv criminals Yisrael Mizrahi, Jonny Attias and Eitan Hiya (father of alleged hit man Eran, who is currently waiting for a judicial okay on a plea-bargain) were among the founding members of the so-called New York Gang. They were quickly joined by Attias's wife Ofra, and another known gangster, Eli Ohana, and also by Mikhail Markovich, a criminal known for smuggling cheaper gasoline from New Jersey across the border to New York, according to media reports.
The gang collapsed as its members began ratting one another out to police, and the hit attempts began. Attias and Mizrahi joined forces against Hiya and Ohana. In 1989, Marcovitch was murdered - allegedly by Mizrahi - and was only later revealed to have been an FBI agent. A year later, Attias was gunned down in an Israeli-owned fish restaurant in Brooklyn after eating with Mizrahi and Ofra.
In 1992, US law enforcement officials cracked the case, revealing that the Ohana was the shooter, and was been sent by Hiya. Ohana fled to the Far East, but was caught there and extradicted to the United States. Like a chain of dominoes, Hiya and seven others were all arrested shortly later.
All nine hammered out plea bargains in which they admitted to all of their crimes.
Mizrahi, meanwhile, returned to Israel, but the Brooklyn DA was gathering evidence to indict him for the murder of Marcovitch and another mobster, Albert Shushan, who was murdered in 1988. Mizrahi was not convicted of the murders, but was instead sentenced to 12 years for drug smuggling. After his release in 2001, the now-aging mobster returned to Israel.
But the relative period of quiet for the surviving members of the New York Gang was over. Two years following his release from prison, Mizrahi was killed in a massive August 2003 car bombing in south Tel Aviv. Mizrahi, who lived in Holon following his return to Israel, was 58 at the time of his murder. Three people - his wife, a friend, and one innocent bystander - were also injured in the blast.
Exactly two years later, in August 2005, another former syndicate member, Nelo Herchko, was also murdered when an unknown assailant entered his Bat Yam apartment and shot the 63-year-old to death.
Herchko's death, incidentally, is strikingly similar to the murder of policeman-turned hitman Tzahi Ben Or, who police believe was killed by the younger Hiya. In both cases, the murderer entered the victim's apartment brazenly, in broad daylight, shot the victim to death, and disappeared without leaving much evidence behind.
While police believe that the murders of both Mizrahi and Herchko were still related to the violent break-up of the gang over a dozen years earlier, neither of the two murders has been solved.
It is unclear what role Efrayim played in the gang's break-up, or why anyone would want to kill him now. But it does seem that police have found themselves once again trying to crack a case whose roots lie almost two decades in the past. The Tel Aviv Central Investigative Unit - the same unit tasked with investigating the Mizrahi and Herchko murders - has been assigned responsibility for cracking this case as well.
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