As Ecstasy became popular, Orgad began smuggling the aspirin-size pills, which cost pennies to make and sold for upward of $25, into Los Angeles from Europe, according to police.
Confidential informants told the Drug Enforcement Administration that Ecstasy traffickers used Waknine's postal business to launder millions of dollars. In a single transaction, he allegedly received $11 million to launder, an affidavit by DEA Special Agent Deanne L. Reuter said.
According to Reuter, an informant said Waknine also boasted of using his mother's company, Silhouette Paris in Studio City, "to import MDMA [Ecstasy] in the shoulder pads of women's apparel."
Waknine was living the high life, according to both his brother and two Los Angeles Police Department detectives, who requested anonymity because they are still investigating Israeli organized crime in Los Angeles.
He would play $10,000 hands in Vegas without pause, drop $5,000 on Cristal Champagne and designer vodka at clubs such as Les Deux, Cafe Maurice and Bar One, and party with celebrities and rappers, strippers and Russian blonds.
His hangdog face, nervous tic and rolls of flab did not diminish his violent reputation.
"There was an instance where someone flipped Hai off at a club," said one of the organized crime detectives, who was undercover at the time. "A Japanese guy driving a Ferrari, he wasn't the coolest guy in the world.
"Hai assessed him a $25,000 fine." The guy paid, fearing the consequences of refusing, the detective said.
In the Jewelry District and in Israeli pockets of the San Fernando Valley, Waknine became known as a go-to guy to collect on a loan, resolve a dispute or fix a problem.
In 2000, insurance broker Jimmy Altman learned that firsthand when Waknine called his office in Encino. Altman, it turned out, was somebody's problem.
He was dating a divorcee, and her former husband wasn't happy about it, according to court documents. Waknine asked Altman to meet him at Tempo Restaurant, a hip Israeli hangout on Ventura Boulevard where Waknine regularly held court.
"If I were you, I'd stay away from Tammy," Waknine warned Altman, according to a description of their encounter in the court papers.
Altman dropped the relationship, but days later two bullets spider-cracked the front windows of his home, the court papers said. Waknine called again and demanded $75,000. "If you don't pay me, I'll hurt you."
Altman filed a police report, but stopped cooperating with detectives when Waknine took out a $1-million policy with him.
Yet police were closing in on Waknine's circle.
Assaf, Waknine's brother, had been sent to prison in New York after pleading guilty in 1997 to participating in an elaborate scheme to rack up $125,000 per day on bogus American Express cards.
In 2001, Waknine's friends in the Ecstasy trade went down. Alex Maimon and Louis Ziskin were convicted of smuggling 700 pounds of Ecstasy into Southern California via FedEx. Orgad pleaded guilty to drug charges for hiring strippers and models to carry millions of Ecstasy tablets from Paris to Los Angeles. Tamer Ibrahim was on the run for shipping 1,100 pounds of Ecstasy -- worth more than $40 million -- through LAX hidden in a shipment of colored pencils and notebooks.
Waknine was still untouched.
That same year, Gabriel Benharosh, another alleged member of the Jerusalem Group, fled to the United States. He brought with him cash that an Israeli bank official had embezzled to pay off her brother's gambling debt to the Israeli mob. The embezzlement crashed the bank and caused a scandal in Israel, and Benharosh needed to hide the money.
Waknine introduced him to Keuylian, the Beverly Hills Lamborghini dealer, and Eli Hadad, a Miami real estate developer, to launder the money.
Benharosh lent $520,000 to Hadad in May 2002, and $950,000 to Keuylian in May 2003.
When both borrowers could not pay Benharosh back in time, Waknine went to work.
In August 2003, a wiretap caught Waknine on the phone to Benharosh, talking about Hadad: "On Tuesday I'm taking the house from him, my bro," Waknine said.
"Finally you do what I tell you," Benharosh replied. "I want to hear that he and his wife and kids are on the street, sleeping in the street."
Both men managed to pay Benharosh back. The Keuylians sold some Ferraris; one went to singer Rod Stewart. Hadad took out a third mortgage on his home.
They thought they were done with Waknine. Instead they were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.
In April 2004, Waknine, Benharosh and three others were indicted on 16 counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion and conspiracy to commit money laundering, based largely on the extensive wiretaps. A State Department narcotics report described Waknine and Benharosh as a "money laundering cell" and "principal targets" in a crime organization run by an Israeli mobster named Itzhak Abergil, whom the department listed as one of the 40 biggest importers of illegal drugs into the United States.