Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Israeli drug kingpin pleads guilty

AP , FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA

An Israeli described by US authorities as one of the world's biggest drug traffickers pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal charges of conspiring to import thousands of ecstasy pills into the US.

The plea by Zeev Rosenstein, also known as "The Fat Man" and purportedly one of Israel's top organized crime figures, comes just a week before his trial was scheduled to begin.

Rosenstein, 52, was sentenced by US District Judge William Dimitrouleas to 12 years in prison, a sentence that was to be served in Israel as part of the deal.

Rosenstein was extradited from Israel in March last year to face a US grand jury indictment charging him with conspiring to distribute more than 850,000 pills of the synthetic drug MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy.

The charges carried a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison and US$2 million in fines.

The plea deal calls for Rosenstein to pay a US$17,500 fine but includes no forfeiture of property, which is common in major federal drug cases.

He pleaded guilty to two drug trafficking conspiracy counts.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration included Rosenstein on its list of the 44 biggest global drug traffickers. Administration officials claimed his illicit network spanned four continents and used smugglers from Latin America to bring the drugs into the US.

Miami US Attorney Alexander Acosta said Rosenstein's organization shipped more than 1 million ecstasy pills in total to the US, with Rosenstein acting as a key financier and decision-maker.

Administration official Karen Tandy labeled him "the most infamous criminal in Israel."

"The conviction of Rosenstein is the final chapter in an unprecedented joint effort between the United States and Israel," Acosta said.

Rosenstein also reached a separate agreement with the Israeli government to plead guilty to an attempted 2001 murder conspiracy involving one of his rivals in that country, said Rosenstein attorney Roy Black.

That agreement calls for a three-year prison term to be served concurrently with the US prison sentence. The killing was never carried out.

There have been at least seven attempts by others to kill Rosenstein, including a December 2003 bomb attack in Tel Aviv that killed three people and injured 18 others but left him unscathed.

Dimitrouleas agreed to recommend that Rosenstein be given credit for the time he has served in jail since Nov. 8, 2004, when he was first arrested in Israel.

Ultimately Rosenstein will likely serve just over five additional years behind bars, Black said.

"I assume he will very promptly be taken to Israel," Black said.

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