- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

An Israeli emigre who operated the largest and longest-running Ecstasy ring in the United States has pleaded guilty to distributing millions of the illegal party pills from California to Florida, and faces 20 years in prison.

Jacob Orgad, who entered his plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New York, led an Ecstasy smuggling operation that authorities said recruited couriers, typically young women, each of whom carried 30,000 to 60,000 Ecstasy pills from Paris to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Orgad, a suspected member of Israeli organized crime, was among 25 persons arrested last year in a massive Ecstasy raid by the U.S. Customs Service, an undercover investigation code-named "Operation Paris Express."

The raid resulted in the seizure of nearly 650,000 Ecstasy pills with an estimated street value of $19.5 million. Agents also confiscated more than $170,000 in U.S. currency, three BMW sports cars and two handguns.

The pills were shipped to dealers throughout the United States, principally New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix.

In some instances, Customs Service officials said members of the Orgad organization instructed its couriers to bring juveniles on smuggling trips.

The use of minors, they said, was specifically designed to allay suspicions by customs agents at the U.S. ports of entry.

Members of the organization went to great lengths to dress couriers in attire they believed would not attract customs' attention, officials said. Some couriers were taken to shopping malls where they were outfitted in expensive business attire.

Customs Service officials said Orgad exploited the low cost of Ecstasy production in Holland and reaped what they described as a "vast windfall" by purchasing the pills in that country for less than $2 each.

They said the pills were resold in the United States to wholesalers at $6 to $8 each and then retailed to buyers - mainly young people - at $25 to $35 each.

The officials said that the Ecstasy pills Orgad smuggled into this country were distributed by his organization to several related trafficking groups, including a new York-based operation led by Ilan Zarger, who also is a native of Israel and a suspected member of Israeli organized crime.

The government's related investigation of Zarger found that he distributed Ecstasy pills throughout the United States, including 40,000 that were sold to an Arizona-based organization led by Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, former underboss of the Gambino crime family in new York.

Zarger and Gravano have since pled guilty to Ecstasy trafficking in New York.

Customs Service spokesman Dean Boyd said the successful prosecution of Orgad was the "product of painstaking work by law enforcement agents in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Houston, who tracked down and identified members of Orgad's network."

He said the probe also benefited from the "substantial assistance" of law enforcement authorities in France and Israel.

Orgad, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the mid-1990s, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 5.

As part of his plea agreement with the government, Orgad agreed to waive his right to contest his extradition to France. Customs Service officials said he would be transported to France to stand trial after completing his prison sentence in the United States.

Mr. Boyd said that if convicted in France, Orgad faces an additional 20-year prison sentence.

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