A Jewish Defense League activist awaiting sentencing for plotting to bomb a mosque and a congressman's office has been cooperating with the FBI in its continuing investigation of the organization and a 1985 bombing that claimed the life of Arab American civil rights leader Alex Odeh, according to sources familiar with the case.
Granted immunity from prosecution for any self-incriminating statements, Earl Krugel, the JDL's former West Coast coordinator, has undergone several days of questioning about a range of subjects, including the Odeh slaying, the sources said.
Over the years, the FBI has investigated several onetime JDL members in connection with the slaying, but no charges have ever been filed. The JDL has denied any involvement.
Odeh, western regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was killed by a bomb that went off when he opened the front door of the committee's Santa Ana office. Seven others were injured. The Justice Department has offered a $1-million reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. One source cautioned, however, that the information provided by Krugel is not likely to "crack the case open."
Krugel pleaded guilty earlier this year to plotting to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and a field office of Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista), who is of Lebanese descent. Krugel was to have been sentenced this week, but the prosecution and defense jointly petitioned U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew to postpone the hearing until Aug. 11, saying additional time was needed to allow Krugel to "fulfill his obligations under his plea agreement." Part of the agreement is under a court seal.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner, the lead prosecutor in the case, and Mark Werksman, Krugel's defense lawyer, declined to comment on whether Krugel is talking to the FBI.
Under terms of his plea agreement, the 60-year-old Krugel faces a 10- to 20-year prison term. His attorney is hoping for a 13-year sentence. If he had been convicted at trial on the original charges, Krugel would have received a mandatory 40-year term.
"He can cooperate all he wants because we have nothing to hide," said Bill Maniaci, the JDL's national chairman. "Apparently, Earl is doing what he figures he has to do to get a better deal. He'll have to live with his conscience." Maniaci assumed leadership of the organization after the suicide last year of longtime JDL chairman Irv Rubin, 57, who jumped from a balcony inside the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. Rubin and Krugel had been held there since their arrest in December 2001 in connection with the bombing plot.
Since entering his guilty plea in February, Krugel has been ostracized by his former JDL cohorts for having implicated Rubin in the conspiracy. In a written statement read into the court record at the time of his plea, Krugel acknowledged that he and Rubin had enlisted a younger JDL member to carry out the bombings. Rubin chose the targets and Krugel supervised the purchase of metal pipes and explosive powder, the statement said.
Danny Gillis, the JDL subordinate assigned to plant the bombs, became an FBI informant, wearing a concealed recording device during a series of meetings with Krugel and Rubin. According to a transcript of one planning session, Krugel said the JDL needed to send "a wake-up call" to Arabs by doing something to one of their "filthy mosques." Gillis told the FBI that Krugel provided him with a camera and instructed him to scout about a dozen potential targets in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Gillis also said he had taken part in two earlier JDL bombing attempts, one at a San Fernando Valley tattoo parlor that caused minor damage to a wall at the rear of the shop and the other an aborted scheme to plant a bomb outside a Valley mosque.
Maniaci said this week that he aims to "turn around the image the JDL has had of being a bunch of bad boy Jews with baseball bats." That, he added, "was a different era."