JDL Chief Dies; Suit Threatened

Times Staff Writer

Irv Rubin, the militant chief of the Jewish Defense League, died in a hospital nine days after authorities say he attempted suicide while awaiting trial for allegedly planning to bomb a mosque.

Within hours of Rubin’s death late Wednesday, his widow threatened to sue unless federal authorities turned over more information.

Authorities have so far rejected Shelley Rubin’s request for an independent investigation, attorney Peter Morris said Thursday. Unless they do so, the lawyer said, he will sue the federal government to gain access to records regarding Rubin’s imprisonment and death.


Rubin, 57, was pronounced dead at 11:49 p.m. Wednesday at County-USC Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. His organs began to fail, he was resuscitated, and then his heart failed, according to his lawyers.

Authorities said Rubin intended to kill himself in the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles by slitting his throat with a razor and then jumping 18 feet to a concrete floor, where he suffered the injuries that led to his death. He never regained consciousness after his Nov. 4 fall.

Rubin, 57, had been in federal custody without bail since his arrest in December for allegedly plotting to blow up the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and the office of a Lebanese American congressman, Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista). Rubin and Earl Krugel, his co-defendant and chief lieutenant in the JDL, pleaded not guilty.

Rubin had lost 60 pounds during his incarceration and had seen a prison psychologist at least once, Morris said.

Federal authorities said no one -- guard or inmate -- was within 15 feet of Rubin when he went over the balcony. Federal officials have repeatedly said, and reiterated Thursday, that they have no evidence that Rubin’s injuries were anything but self-inflicted.

Rubin was born in Montreal and moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was 15. He later became a U.S. citizen and enlisted in the Air Force. In 1971, he joined the JDL, and had led the organization since 1985.


Over the years Rubin gained notoriety for offering a $500 reward to anyone who killed a member of the American Nazi Party. He fought with Ku Klux Klan members on television and publicly celebrated the murder of a prominent Arab American. Rubin’s extreme views led to his denunciation by mainstream Jewish leaders.

He was no stranger to the courtroom. Most recently, he had sued the city of Burbank and won an appellate court decision banning sectarian prayers at the opening of weekly City Council meetings.

On the criminal side, he once said he had been arrested 40 times.

“I would like to think that he would be remembered for standing up for Jews.... But unfortunately this indictment and what appears to be a suicide detract from some of the positive things he had done,” said attorney James E. Blatt, who defended Rubin against other criminal charges over the years.

“He was extremely patriotic. He loved this country. And he was proud to be a Jew,” Blatt said. “A lot of Jewish people wouldn’t admit it, but they liked what he did in rooting out Nazis.... He stood for something. It’s a shame that it has ended this way.”

Rubin’s lawyers said his widow and her two sons, Ari, 21, and Kelly, 12, were called to the hospital by a federal marshal about 8 p.m. Wednesday when it appeared that Rubin’s condition was worsening. They spent nearly two hours at his bedside, but were not present when he died.

A spokesman for the county coroner’s office said the official cause of death has not yet been determined. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Shelley Rubin had previously rejected the contention that her husband tried to kill himself. But Morris said Thursday that she now just wants the truth, even if all the evidence points to suicide.

Morris said he wants to determine whether, if Rubin was depressed, he received proper medical treatment behind bars.

“If they didn’t meet the standard of care and Irv was not adequately treated, that would be the basis for a lawsuit,” the attorneys said. “Or if he was in the general population and was thrown over the railing by a neo-Nazi or a member of the Aryan Brotherhood and if the government could have prevented that, then that is the basis for a lawsuit.”

Morris said the FBI, which investigated Rubin repeatedly, should not be relied upon to objectively examine the circumstances of his death.

“It’s in the federal government’s best interest to come to the conclusion that they did nothing wrong,” he said, urging federal officials to release all information they have on the death. “Unless the government has something to hide, it should turn over the information without a fight,” Morris said.

Rubin was facing at least 35 years in prison if convicted of the bombing plot charges.