Rosenstein pleads not guilty in US court

Israeli was on US list of 44 top worldwide drug traffickers.

zeev rosenstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zeev rosenstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ze'ev Rosenstein, identified by US federal prosecutors as one of the world's biggest distributors of the illegal drug Ecstasy, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges that could put him in prison for up to 40 years. Rosenstein, 51, entered the plea nearly three months after he was extradited from Israel to face charges that he conspired to distribute more than one million Ecstasy pills in the United States between summer 1999 and November 2001. Rosenstein, dressed in a tan jailhouse outfit, said "not guilty, your honor" through a Hebrew translator when asked to enter a plea by US Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer. No trial date has been set, with the next status conference scheduled for June 21. Rosenstein is being held on $10 million bond. His attorney, Howard Srebnick, said Rosenstein is currently unable to make bail despite having significant financial resources around the world. The delay between Rosenstein's extradition in March and his plea Wednesday is unusual, but was mainly caused by court scheduling difficulties. In addition, both Srebnick and the chief prosecutor in the case, Ben Greenberg, were tied up in another trial for several weeks. Rosenstein, who was on the US Drug Enforcement Administration's list of 44 top worldwide drug traffickers, was arrested in Israel more than a year ago. He is allegedly one of Israel's most powerful organized crime figures, although he has largely escaped prosecution until now. US prosecutors say Rosenstein's organization produced Ecstasy in Israel, shipped it to Europe and used Latin American smuggling networks to bring the drugs into the United States. Prosecutors claim he is one of the main financiers of the operation and put buyers and sellers together. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each of two drug conspiracy counts in a 2004 grand jury indictment. At Wednesday's hearing, Srebnick said Rosenstein is being kept in solitary custody for 23 hours a day in the special housing unit, or "SHU," reserved for high-security prisoners at the Miami federal detention center. Rosenstein gets a single 15-minute phone call each week and must meet with his lawyers in a cramped jail conference room that is shared with other inmates. These conditions make it difficult for Rosenstein to prepare his defense, Srebnick said. "He is not getting equal treatment as a pretrial detainee," Srebnick said. Seltzer, however, rejected Srebnick's request to change Rosenstein's status, saying that he does not interfere with the way the US Bureau of Prisons operates the Miami facility. There will likely be a hearing this summer on whether Rosenstein can make the $10 million bond or remain in custody until his trial.