Moshe Matsri, Israeli Organized Crime Figure Gets 32 Years In US

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles man who prosecutors say was a leader of an Israeli organized crime ring that moved drugs and money across the globe was sentenced Friday to 32 years in prison.

Moshe Matsri, 49, was sentenced in federal court in Los Angeles on a slew of money laundering, drug and extortion charges. Prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to 34 years in prison, while his own attorney argued for a 12-year term.

Prosecutors describe Matsri, also known as “Moshe the Religious,” as a well-known crime figure in the San Fernando Valley with significant ties to the Israel-based Abergil crime family.

They say he laundered large amounts of money around the world that helped fuel the international drug trade, and in one instance, negotiated a deal involving “enough cocaine to get the entire city of Dallas high.”

Matsri’s attorney, Dean Steward, said after Friday’s sentencing that he’ll appeal the lengthy prison term. With two years already served following his arrest, Matsri would be nearly 80 years old by the time he gets out of prison, tantamount to a life sentence, Steward told U.S. District Judge S. James Otero.

Steward argued that his client is a loving husband and father, and a deeply religious and caring man, cooking for his entire synagogue every Friday.

“The person that I know and the person that is so deeply involved in his temple is a salvageable person,” Steward said. “This is somebody who, given a chance to have a life, can change the things that he has done.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robyn Bacon said Matsri very well may be a good family man, but he was also a major player in the drug trafficking world.

“The sentence should reflect just how serious the crimes these guys were committing were, and how willing Moshe Matsri was to use violence to get what he wanted,” Bacon said.

Matsri was arrested in July 2013, along with several other members of the organization, including a man in Belgium and another in the Netherlands, in a coordinated international investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department. Matsri’s brother was arrested by Israeli authorities, as well, Bacon said.

Prosecutors say Matsri and “a network of trusted individuals” conducted complex, layered transactions to wire money through shell accounts in locations around the world, including Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bacon said an undercover investigator posing as a drug trafficker was introduced to Matsri as the man “who could 100 percent take care” of all a drug trafficker’s needs in Los Angeles.

Later, prosecutors say Matsri agreed to help two undercover agents posing as a Columbian drug trafficker and a Los Angeles associate transport cocaine from Los Angeles to Utah. He also planned to ship 20 kilograms of cocaine from Panama to Israel, and proposed a deal to buy 100 kilograms of cocaine for sale in New York, prosecutors said.

Among the other men arrested with Matsri, two pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of up to 3 1/2 years. Three more are set for trial in the next year. A sixth, Shay Paniry, of Studio City, was sentenced Thursday to more than 17 years in prison on drug and money laundering charges.

Matsri was born in Tel Aviv, Israel to parents who had fled Iraq because of religious persecution, according to court documents. Matsri, who served in the Israei military, and his wife moved to the U.S. in 1996. They have five children between 6 and 18 years old.

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