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Private investigator denies setting up owner of kosher meat market

April 02, 2013|By Matt Stevens and Kate Mather

The private investigator whose video recordings ignited a kosher meat controversy across Los Angeles denied being paid by other distributors, saying his probe of Doheny Glatt Kosher meat market “felt like the right thing to do.”

A video shot by investigator Eric Agaki aired on KTLA-TV in March, purporting to show workers at Doheny bringing in boxes of meat late at night without the required supervision of the mashgiach -- the kosher supervisor who oversees the store.

Allegations then emerged that Doheny had sold meat that was not properly certified under kosher rules. Last week, a council of rabbis pulled Doheny’s kosher certification, and in a statement Friday, the rabbis raised the possibility of “legal action.”

The allegations, which target longtime market owner Michael Engelman, have sharply divided the city’s Jewish community. Many longtime customers returned to the market Friday after it got a new kosher certification from local rabbis. Some supporters said they believed Engelman had been set up by other distributors who grew frustrated by his success.

In an interview with The Times on Monday, the investigator Agaki flatly denied those rumors.

“How can anybody set them up?” Agaki said of Engelman and his associates. “They did what they did. Nobody made them do it.

“Nobody hired me, nobody paid me,” he continued. “If anybody wants to pay me and send me donations, I’m glad to accept them.”

Agaki said his investigation into Doheny began about seven months ago when he was approached by a local rabbi. The rabbi told him some community members were frustrated because Doheny was selling meat “way too cheap” and  “putting a lot of people out of business.”

Sources also told Agaki that Doheny workers were picking up empty glatt kosher boxes from restaurants.

The video released to KTLA was taken March 7, Agaki said. It purports to show one of Engelman’s associates loading his car with repacked glatt kosher boxes  at an unsupervised warehouse in Reseda. The associate later transfers them to Engelman at a McDonald’s, and Engelman unloads the boxes at his market when the overseer is absent.

The investigator eventually turned material over to local rabbis, who then met with the Rabbinical Council of California. The council ultimately pulled Doheny’s kosher certification.

Agaki, who is Jewish, said he had no relationship with Engelman prior to the start of the investigation. But he said that during his investigation, it became clear that “a lot of distributors had problems with Doheny.”  

“A lot of people wanted to see Doheny go down,” Agaki said.

Engelman could not be reached for comment Friday when The Times visited the market. Tuesday phone calls to the store went unanswered.

A new kosher supervisor was at the store last week, reassuring customers that any problems had been solved and that all the meat was kosher.

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matt.stevens@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

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