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New York Daily News -
Saturday, November 2nd, 2002

Bust drug money ring


AN international money-laundering ring run by New York Hasidim washed millions of dollars in cocaine proceeds for the Colombian cartels, prosecutors disclosed yesterday.

The group laundered at least $1.7 million for the druglords, holding secret meetings with the Colombians in Miami and midtown Manhattan, according to papers filed by Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey.

The suspects were brazen - up to $500,000 would be laundered at a time.

One of the suspects, Avraham Zaltzman, allegedly bragged that he "could pick up money anywhere and wire it anywhere," according to FBI affidavits accompanying the arrests.

Zaltzman was so brazen that he allegedly picked up drug money himself in Madrid in April and flew to London, where he was detained by British Customs. They found $460,000 concealed in his vest.

Yesterday, FBI and Customs agents arrested Zaltzman and Aaron Bornstein, both of Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Ringleader hunted

Bornstein runs an interior design business there, and Zaltzman is a part-time printer who spends most of his time in Israel, officials said.

A third man who was believed to be the ringleader, Akiva Apter, remained a fugitive. Three others were named as unindicted co-conspirators.

The case came together in April after agents busted one of the co-conspirators - a man who speaks Yiddish and Spanish - and got him to cooperate.

The informant agreed to secretly record hundreds of conversations with his partners. He told the agents that between early 2001 and the day they caught him, he had delivered $1.7 million in drug proceeds.

The informer began recording his calls, more than 400 in all. He also recounted his involvement in the group, starting with one of his first meetings in Manhattan's Diamond District early last year, an affidavit filed by FBI Agent Michael McGarrity states.

The informant said he had traveled to Miami, where he learned the group was involved in delivering cash from drug sales in the United States back to the kingpins in Colombia.

Cash flow

Seven times, the informer helped move the cash through businesses and bank accounts, in amounts up to $500,000, he told the FBI. He recorded a June 13 talk with Bornstein in which Bornstein instructed him on how to deposit cash in amounts of less than $10,000 to avoid scrutiny, the affidavit states.

At the same time, the bureau began bugging conversations of other conspirators. In one April 21 talk, the informer discussed a shipment of cocaine with one of the unnamed co-conspirators.

Yesterday, Bornstein appeared before U.S. Magistrate Douglas Eaton and was released on $500,000 bond to be secured by $200,000 in cash. About a half-dozen Hasidim showed up for the arraignment.

His lawyer, Paul Schectman, declined comment, as did prosecutors.

Zaltzman was jailed pending a bail hearing next week. He requested a prayer book and prayer shawl while behind bars.

At least two other ring members have pleaded guilty to money laundering and are cooperating in the probe in the hopes of winning lighter jail time.


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