For more than two decades, Jewish Defense League Chairman Irv Rubin's hulking figure has been a familiar one on the evening news, throwing fists at neo-Nazis, threatening Arab activists and being dragged off to jail.
Now Rubin, 46, has been arrested again, but this case has cast the glare of publicity onto a private life that had remained in the shadows until Friday, when he was seized on charges of conspiracy to commit murder for hire.
According to authorities, Rubin has been moonlighting for a private detective, and applying his trademark in-your-face political tactics to such endeavors as collecting money for creditors.
He is accused of hiring an associate to terrorize an unidentified San Pedro man who purportedly owed money to one of Rubin's business clients. Police say Rubin's associate has admitted firing bullets through the San Pedro man's windows, threatening to kill him, and hitting him on the head. Authorities contend that, had they not stepped in Friday, the man might have been murdered.
Rubin, who lives in Monrovia, was taken into custody after dinner with a friend in Sherman Oaks on Friday night, and is being held without bail at the LAPD's Harbor Division jail pending arraignment. Detective John Woodrum said police hope to arrest within the next two days the man who hired Rubin.
Rubin's friends and his wife insisted Saturday that he is innocent and that his business was a legitimate and necessary sideline to his all-encompassing passion: the JDL, a militant group founded in the late 1960s to fight anti-Semitism.
"It's all a lie. My husband would never do what they're alleging," said Rubin's wife, Shelley, a writer who is active in Jewish causes. "This is just one in a long series of events the LAPD has put us through . . . to discredit Irv."
With two children to raise, she said, they survived largely on contributions from JDL supporters and her husband's part-time jack-of-all-trades jobs. Those jobs included serving legal papers for a private detective and helping a construction supply firm track down and threaten to sue customers who were thousands of dollars behind in their bills, she and a friend said.
Yitzak Ben-Moishe, a close family friend and JDL associate, said Rubin's private jobs involved "some credit and collection work--totally aboveboard. No strong-arm." But he acknowledged that Rubin was persistent in "keeping on" those who owed money to clients. "You have to go out and knock on their doors and say: 'When will you pay the money?' "
One thing Rubin has never been shy about is asking for money, regularly approaching wealthy Los Angeles area Jews who might be sympathetic to the militant stance of the JDL.
In the mid-1980s, before the collapse of the Reseda-based ZZZZ Best carpet cleaning company, Rubin approached its whiz-kid founder, Barry Minkow, to warn that one of his key executives was a white supremacist--and to suggest that Minkow make weekly donations to the JDL.
"But he's never gotten rich off any of this, believe me," Ben-Moishe said, adding that Rubin drives secondhand cars and had to borrow money from relatives to buy his condo.
Ben-Moishe said it was last summer that Rubin met the man whose allegations led to Friday's arrest.
Friends said the young man, who has not been identified, called the JDL leader from Sacramento asking for help because his girlfriend was being terrorized by skinheads. Rubin and Ben-Moishe traveled there to help him confront the offenders.
Although the young man is not Jewish, Ben-Moishe said, "he was very supportive of the fact that we took a stand against skinheads," and he soon moved to Los Angeles to work with the JDL leaders.
But 11 days ago, according to police, he turned himself in and implicated Rubin in the alleged terrorism against the San Pedro man. "He called and said: 'I'm doing these things and I can't do this any more,' " Woodrum said.
Rubin's young associate, who at the time was booked on suspicion of attempted murder, was released and placed in protective custody, authorities said. Police would not say how much Rubin was paid for serving as a "go-between" in the alleged murder-for-hire plot.
Steven Goldberg, a Century City lawyer who represents the JDL and Rubin, said he was outraged that "the alleged enforcer, the goon" has been freed while Rubin remains jailed.
Goldberg said he believes that the man is claiming that Rubin hired him in a bid to make a deal with authorities. But he also said he "wouldn't be surprised" if after his release the man "at some point wore a wire" to record conversations with Rubin.
Rubin's arrest comes after he has announced that he was trying to moderate his image. Starting in 1990, he donned three-piece suits and began knocking on doors of Middle Eastern restaurants such as Eat-a-Pita on Fairfax Avenue to offer security checks.
He once admitted in an interview that his cheerleading for violent acts and teaching children to use guns was not only a mistake, but a public relations disaster.