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O.C. Bail Bond Probe Widens

Police find as much as $140 million in U.S. and Middle East accounts controlled by a La Habra family. Funds are legal profits, lawyer says.

September 26, 2004|H.G. Reza and Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

An investigation fueled by allegations of kidnappings, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy by a family-owned bail bond agency has widened as authorities said they have discovered that tens of millions of dollars moved through company bank accounts here and in the Middle East.

Adnan "Dan" Yousef, owner of American Liberty Bail Bonds in Whittier, his wife and three sons were arrested Sept. 15. Authorities said it appears the La Habra family ran the agency as a virtual street-level army -- kidnapping clients and giving discounts to inmates in exchange for criminal favors.

But as investigators looked through documents seized in the raid, they said they were startled to find as much as $140 million in various bank accounts controlled by the Yousefs.

The family, which, according to court documents, has ties to Palestine and Jordan, diverted some of the cash to Israel and other Middle East countries, sources close to the investigation said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 29, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Bail bonds investigation -- An article in the California section Sunday about the arrest of American Liberty Bail Bonds owner Adnan "Dan" Yousef and members of his family reported that they had ties to Palestine. The reference should have been to the Palestinian territories.

Investigators said it is unclear where that money ultimately went or why. But in search warrant affidavits, they say informants have told them the family was involved in the sale of illegal drugs and money-laundering.

John Rorabaugh, one of the attorneys representing Yousef, said his client simply ran a very lucrative business.

"It's not a criminal enterprise. This is all a combination of a misunderstanding and a wild imagination from detectives," Rorabaugh said. "They are legitimate bail agents writing a high volume of bail every month. They're a hard-working family."

He said his client has ties to the Middle East because he grew up in Jordan and has relatives there. Any suggestion that Yousef has terrorist ties -- a suggestion that investigators have not made -- would be absurd, he said.

The family members were arrested in a sweep as more than 150 investigators from Orange and Los Angeles county law enforcement agencies fanned out to the various locations of the bail bond agency. Fifteen homes were searched and dozens of bank accounts inspected.

Without providing details, investigators have said that defendants who were clients of the bail bond company were charged reduced fees in exchange for unspecified "services" to the company.

Some also were compelled by threats, police have said.

Yousef, 55, is free on $5-million bail on charges including conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement and kidnapping for extortion.

His wife, Rayka, 58, is being held on a federal warrant after being caught allegedly trying to move $50,000 in cash out of the country. The three sons are free on bail ranging from $1 million to $100,000.

All but Rayka Yousef are awaiting a court hearing where they will enter pleas.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Nick Thompson, who is supervising the investigation, declined to discuss the specific amount of money that investigators have tracked to the Yousefs.

"But it's a substantial amount," he said.

According to court records, Marc E. Quarles, an ex-felon who worked for American Liberty, told investigators that Yousef was making $20 million to $30 million a month through his bail bond business, which is headquartered in Whittier with satellite locations throughout the Southland.

Quarles, a Huntington Beach resident now listed as a fugitive, also worked as an "enforcer" for Yousef, authorities said.

Court and police records show that the family was accustomed to carrying around large amounts of cash and keeping even bigger amounts at home. When authorities raided the Yousef home in La Habra, they said they recovered more than $700,000 in cash.

When Rayka Yousef was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors at Los Angeles International Airport in May 2003, she allegedly lied about the amount of cash she was carrying before trying to board a flight to Amsterdam.

According to an affidavit filed by a federal agent, Rayka Yousef said she was carrying $5,000, but a search of her purse revealed $52,000. When informed that she had violated currency reporting laws, Rayka Yousef told the inspector, "If the money is a problem, just take it," according to the affidavit.

She pleaded not guilty last week to federal charges of violating U.S. currency reporting laws.

Thompson, the prosecutor supervising the case, and Fullerton Police Sgt. Steve Matson said investigators are still trying to determine how the Yousefs accumulated so much money and what they did with it. Investigators said they have found between 30 and 50 bank accounts allegedly controlled by the family, said Thompson.

"The amount of money they were moving around is not what you would expect to be generated by a bail bond agency," Matson said.

On Friday, officials from the California Department of Insurance suspended American Liberty's license and ordered the firm closed.

Rorabaugh said the success of the bail bond agency is a product of his client's hard work and long hours. "Dan never leaves his office," Rorabaugh said.

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