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JDL Activist Faces Trial Over Plot

June 15, 2004|David Rosenzweig | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge ruled after a closed-door hearing Monday that alleged Jewish Defense League bomb plotter Earl Krugel breached his plea agreement with prosecutors and must now stand trial for a foiled attempt to bomb a Culver City mosque and an Arab American congressman's office.

U.S. District Judge Ronald S. W. Lew ordered his courtroom cleared of all spectators to hear arguments by a prosecutor and Krugel's lawyers over whether the 61-year-old defendant had lived up to a still-secret agreement to assist investigators exploring other acts of anti-Arab violence.

Krugel, a dental assistant from Reseda, had been facing a 10- to 20-year sentence under the terms of his plea agreement.

The judge's ruling means that Krugel now faces a mandatory 45 years in prison if convicted.

Peter Morris, one of Krugel's lawyers, denounced the decision, telling reporters afterward that his client had given "extraordinary cooperation" to authorities since entering his plea agreement in February 2003.

But the defense attorney declined to go into details, saying the matter was held under court seal.

Morris also refused to say whether the dispute with prosecutors involved the unsolved 1985 slaying of Arab American activist Alex Odeh.

Odeh, western regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was mortally wounded when a bomb exploded as he opened the front door of his Santa Ana office.

The Justice Department has offered a $1-million reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Through the years, the FBI has investigated several onetime JDL members in connection with the slaying, but no charges have ever been brought.

The JDL has denied any involvement.

According to sources familiar with the case, Krugel was questioned about the Odeh slaying during debriefing sessions with FBI agents.

Those same sources said Krugel had also failed two polygraph tests.

Outside the courtroom Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner also declined to disclose why the government was dissatisfied with Krugel's cooperation -- or even to acknowledge there was a cooperation agreement.

The prosecution had asked Lew to find Krugel in breach of his plea agreement in a motion filed under seal in October.

But hearings on the matter were postponed several times, giving rise to speculation that the government was using it as a threat to wrest more information from the longtime JDL activist.

Earlier this month, Morris and co-counsel Bryan Altman filed papers under seal asking the judge to enforce the plea agreement.

In a statement explaining why the documents should be withheld from public view, Altman wrote that any disclosure "would expose Krugel and his family to potential danger due to retribution by the individuals named by Krugel as participants in illegal conduct."

The statement added that disclosure of documents would compromise "ongoing criminal investigations by potentially providing targets of these investigations with information provided by the defendant during debriefing sessions with the government."

Krugel has been in custody since December 2001, when he was arrested with JDL national director Irv Rubin on charges of conspiring to plant bombs at the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and at a field office of Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista).

Rubin, 57, died in an apparent suicide in 2002, when he allegedly jumped from a second-floor balcony at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles.

After Rubin's death, Krugel negotiated a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to conspiring to bomb Issa's office, which carried a mandatory 10-year sentence, and violating the civil rights of worshipers at the King Fahd Mosque, which calls for a sentence of up to 10 years.

Krugel's trial is tentatively set to begin Nov. 16, but defense lawyers told the judge they would need more time to prepare their case.

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