Real estate agent held in 'American Pie' affair freed

Public defender tells 'Post' American-Israeli cooperated with police, "expressed relief" upon hearing news of his release.

An American-Israeli real estate agent arrested by the National Fraud Unit on Monday in connection with an enormous fraud and money-laundering operation was released on Wednesday after police suspicions against him appeared to dissipate. The agent, who could not be named for legal reasons, made aliya from the US around eight years ago. Marvin Berkowitz, the police's chief suspect in the affair, is suspected of pocketing at least $12 million obtained by impersonating US federal prisoners in phony tax refund requests sent to American financial authorities. According to police, Berkowitz asked the real estate agent to locate apartments in Israel for him to buy, renovate and resell, as part of an attempt to launder the money. The real estate agent has denied any knowledge of the illegal source of Berkowitz's funds. Public defender Gil Gabai, who represents the real estate agent, told The Jerusalem Post that his client "cooperated with police during his interrogation. I don't know if police accept his version of events fully, but the very fact he was released with the police's consent is significant." Gabai said his client had "expressed relief" upon hearing news of his release. "He was relieved he was able to convince police he was not involved. When he was first arrested, bombastic and frightening charges like money-laundering were being floated," Gabai said. "But when police examined the issue and interrogated him, they appeared to see things differently," he went on. "I don't know if this is over, but my experience as a lawyer tells me that in this kind of case, if police release someone previously suspected of involvement, it means they apparently will accept his version." A National Fraud Unit spokesman said in response that "we do not discuss the status of individuals in the investigation before it is completed." During a remand hearing on Monday, Ramle Magistrate Judge Daniel Bari cast doubt on the complicity of the real estate agent, ruling that he be kept in custody for two days, and calling on police "to check" their case against him thoroughly.