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Police Arrest 15 in Ecstasy Sweep

Drugs: A ring allegedly led by Israeli nationals is believed to have been the major supplier for the South Bay. Officers seize 26,000 tablets.

July 16, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A law enforcement task force investigating an Ecstasy ring allegedly run by Israeli nationals culminated a two-month probe with the arrests of more than a dozen people--most from the San Fernando Valley--and the seizure of more than $8 million worth of the hallucinogenic drug, Torrance police said Monday.

Investigators from the Torrance and Glendale police departments and the U.S. Customs Service seized 26,000 tablets of Ecstasy, 17 pounds of marijuana, weapons and $44,000 in cash, said Officer David Crespin, a Torrance police spokesman.

"This is a monumental seizure given the quantity and the street value," Crespin.

The arrests were made July 3 in Encino, Sherman Oaks and Studio City and on Sunday in Van Nuys and Reseda.

Fifteen people were booked on charges ranging from possession of narcotics, drug sales and transporting drugs for sale, to forgery, armed robbery, carjacking, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle and drug trafficking within 1,000 feet of a school.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 20, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 7 inches; 277 words Type of Material: Correction
Ecstasy seizure--In a story in Tuesday's California section about a multi-agency sweep against an alleged drug-trafficking ring, the number of Ecstasy tablets seized was incorrect. Drug agents seized 400,000 tablets, not 26,000.

Arrested were Sami Atias, 24; John Melkoun, 30; and Rafi Shotland, 34, all of Sherman Oaks; Louis Amorim, 28, and Maxim Gorin, 25, of Encino; John Folinsky, 29, and David Kaylan, 32, of Los Angeles; Kobi Amasum, 31, and Moshe Matsri, 35, of Reseda; Robert Ananian, 34, of Montebello; Darren Wayne Lebrecht, 31, of Studio City; Jessica Alison Altman, 20, of Calabasas; Roston Aliktsann, 39, of Hollywood; Tal Brisman, 27, of Tarzana; and Nery Atias, 28, of Van Nuys.

The investigation began in Torrance and Glendale and eventually took narcotics detectives to Encino, Sherman Oaks and Van Nuys.

After seizing the Ecstasy from Valley homes July 3, police were conducting surveillance on drug suspects Sunday when they witnessed an armed robbery and carjacking at a home in the 4900 block of Van Nuys Boulevard, said Sgt. Tom Lorenz, supervisor of the Glendale narcotics unit.

"All of a sudden, the buyers started pulling out guns. They attempted to rob the dealers," Lorenz said. Police then stepped in and arrested the suspects.

Ecstasy, also known as MDMA, is a synthetic stimulant and hallucinogenic that induces a euphoric high and heightened sensory sensations. Use of the drug can result in long-term brain damage, organ failure and death.

The drug began showing up in the 1990s at all-night dance parties called raves and has been rapidly gaining popularity across the U.S. the last five years, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Authorities seized 7.2 million Ecstasy tablets in 2001, compared with 400,000 in 1997.

Popular among drug dealers because of its large profit margin, an Ecstasy pill costs about 50 cents to manufacture in illegal labs and can sell for as much as $40 on the street, law enforcement authorities said. In Los Angeles, considered a port of entry for the drug, a tablet fetches about $20 on the street, according to police.

The size of the bust "just verifies what everyone believes: L.A. is a major distribution center for Ecstasy," said Steve Woody, associate special agent in charge of the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Customs Service.

Many suspects arrested Sunday are Israeli nationals, police said. Just as Colombians dominate the U.S. cocaine market, Israelis have a large stake in the Ecstasy trade, Lorenz said.

Those arrested are believed to be responsible for 90% of the Ecstasy going into Torrance, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach, and police said the busts were a significant blow to the operation, Crespin said.

Several suspects are being held in lieu of $1-million bail, while others are being held without bail, Crespin said.

Police plan to present their case to the district attorney's office today.

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