Rosenstein pleads guilty to charges

Ecstasy smuggling plea comes a week before trial; will serve time in Israel.

zeev rosenstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zeev rosenstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
An Israeli described by US authorities as one of the world's biggest drug traffickers pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiring to import thousands of Ecstasy pills into the United States. The plea by Zeev Rosenstein, also known as "The Fat Man" and purportedly one of Israel's top organized crime figures, comes just a week before his trial was scheduled to begin. Rosenstein, 52, was sentenced by US District Judge William Dimitrouleas to 12 years in prison to be served in Israel as part of the deal. Rosenstein was extradited from Israel in March 2006 to face a US grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring to distribute more than 850,000 pills of the synthetic drug MDMA, more commonly known as Ecstasy. The charges carried a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison and $2 million (€1.54 million) in fines. The plea deal calls for Rosenstein to pay a $17,500 (€13,500) fine but includes no forfeiture of property, which is common in major federal drug cases. He pleaded guilty to two drug trafficking conspiracy counts. The US Drug Enforcement Administration included Rosenstein on its list of the 44 biggest global drug traffickers. DEA officials claimed his illicit network spanned four continents and used smugglers from Latin America to bring the drugs into the United States. Rosenstein also reached a separate agreement with the Israeli government to plead guilty to an attempted 2001 murder conspiracy involving one of his rivals in Israel, said Rosenstein attorney Roy Black. That agreement calls for a three-year prison term to be served concurrently with the US prison sentence. The killing was never carried out. There have been at least seven attempts by others to kill Rosenstein, including a December 2003 bomb attack in Tel Aviv that killed three people and injured 18 others but left him unscathed. Dimitrouleas agreed to recommend that Rosenstein be given credit for the time he has served in jail since Nov. 8, 2004, when he was first arrested in Israel. Ultimately Rosenstein will likely serve just over five additional years behind bars, Black said. "I assume he will very promptly be taken to Israel," Black said. The agreement and its relatively light prison sentence for a drug kingpin came after Dimitrouleas had agreed to allow six undercover Israel Police officers to testify at the trial wearing disguises such as wigs and facial hair. But the judge also ordered them to use their real names, which the Israelis said would still compromise the officers' identities. Rosenstein's lawyers had strenuously objected, saying the disguises could prejudice jurors against Rosenstein and would deprive him of the right to confront one's accusers. When he first appeared in US court last year, Rosenstein delivered a message to Israelis through his lawyer: "This year a prisoner in Miami, next year a free man in Israel." Although he had dodged prosecution in Israel for years for a variety of alleged crimes, the US charges apparently were not so easy to elude. The US case stems from the July 2001 seizure of more than 700,000 Ecstasy pills in a New York apartment after one of Rosenstein's alleged coconspirators found a Miami-based buyer, who turned out to be a confidential informant for both the DEA and the Miami-Dade Police Department, prosecutors said. US authorities said six other people charged in the case have pleaded guilty and one was convicted after a trial, receiving a 20-year prison sentence. Several of them were listed as witnesses in the Rosenstein case.