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Israelis charged in drug trafficking

Suspected mobsters allegedly employ local gang to peddle Ecstasy.

August 26, 2008|Joe Mozingo and Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writers

Suspected Israeli mobsters employed members of the Vineland Boyz, a San Fernando Valley gang, to distribute tens of thousands of Ecstasy pills throughout Los Angeles, provide security and gun down an Encino man who allegedly tried to steal a drug shipment from them, according to a federal indictment unsealed Sunday.

Itzhak Abergil, allegedly one of the most powerful crime bosses in Israel, was arrested Sunday in the Israeli city of Bat Yam on racketeering charges brought by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, where he is due to be extradited.

The State Department has listed Abergil as one of the 40 biggest importers of illegal drugs to the United States.

Los Angeles police and the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the U.S. attorney's office, have been investigating Ecstasy trafficking by Israeli crime syndicates for years and have racked up a series of big arrests. But Abergil, 39, has long been the ultimate target, law enforcement sources said.

"The Abergil Family was among the most powerful crime families in Israel," the indictment says.

The 77-page indictment provides a detailed depiction of foreign drug traffickers linking up with a local street gang to make inroads into the Los Angeles underworld.

Four other Israeli nationals, including Abergil's older brother Meir, 53, were arrested in the alleged conspiracy. Another is on the loose, as is Luis "Barney Twin" Sandoval, 25, alleged to be a key Vineland Boyz figure.

Sandoval allegedly oversaw the slaying of Sami Atias, who was shot to death as he drove in Encino in August 2003.

The Abergil syndicate decided to have Atias killed after he tried to steal a 165-pound Ecstasy shipment from Belgium, where the drug is often synthesized, the indictment alleged. The load would have been worth an estimated $7 million on the street.

Prosecutors alleged Abergil worked with another syndicate called the Jerusalem Group to traffic Ecstasy, cocaine and hashish; to embezzle bank money; to launder drug and embezzlement proceeds; and to conduct loan sharking.

When the Abergil brothers were arrested Sunday, they had just been released from custody on unrelated charges in a case that outraged much of Israel. On July 28, men on motorcycles -- allegedly trying to purge members of their own organization -- shot and killed an innocent bystander in front of her husband and two children. The Abergils were arrested and charged earlier this month with ordering the hit.

Israel has had difficulties bringing organized crime figures to justice on its own and has worked with U.S. authorities to bring them to trial in U.S. courts, where racketeering laws are a powerful legal tool.

The other defendants in custody are Sasson Barashy, 51; Moshe Malul, 36; and Israel Ozifa, 48. Yoram El-Al, 37, remains a fugitive. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

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joe.mozingo@latimes.com

ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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