Lawyers: Plea bargain to bring Rosenstein back home soon

Lawyers representing suspected drug smuggler Ze'ev Rosenstein said Sunday they are close to reaching a plea bargain with US prosecutors that will soon bring him back to an Israeli prison. According to the deal, Rosenstein will serve 12 to 13 years in prison. The Florida District Court judge who is trying him will determine the sentence. According to American law, Rosenstein can receive a maximum sentence of 20 years. The Justice Ministry has refused to comment on the reports. However, Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said Israel was not a party to the plea bargain because it was not involved in Rosenstein's trial. According to the extradition agreement between Israel and the US, Israelis who are citizens and residents of Israel may be extradited for crimes committed abroad, on condition that the extraditing state agrees to let the suspect, if convicted, serve out his term in Israel. Rosenstein was extradited to the US on March 6, 2006. He is charged with smuggling 1.45 million MDMA (Ecstasy) pills into the US and distributing them. While Rosenstein may soon be behind bars in Israel, recent history has shown that jail neither protects criminals nor does it necessarily prevent them from taking part in the management of their crime syndicates. Last year, a state's witness in an organized crime trial was poisoned in jail just before testifying. Even when he was free, Rosenstein was protected by four bodyguards, and will likely be a tough assignment for Prisons Service guards. After arriving in Israel, he is expected to be transferred to Rimonim Prison's National Isolation Unit, where Yigal Amir, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, and serial rapist Benny Sela are incarcerated. Earlier this week, one of the unit's six cells was vacated. Francois Abutbul, another crime boss, was released. The Abutbul family has long been allied with the Rosenstein crime syndicate. Rosenstein was for years considered the number one target of the Israel Police and is suspected of running the most successful crime syndicate in Israel. But for almost two decades, the police have failed to build a case against him. His last conviction in Israel was in 1978 and his rap sheet only contains property-related offenses such as break-ins and armed robbery. The US charges against Rosenstein were based on a July 2001 seizure of 700,000 Ecstasy pills, after one of his underlings sold a sample of the drug to an undercover police agent. US Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said in March that Rosenstein led "a sophisticated drug trafficking network whose operations spanned four continents and involved the shipment of well over one million Ecstasy pills to the United States." Police believe that Amir Mulner was entrusted with much of Rosenstein's network.