A former Jewish Defense League member who admitted plotting to bomb a Culver City mosque and the field office of Arab American Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista) was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison.
Earl Krugel, a 62-year-old dental technician from Reseda, apologized for his actions, telling the court they were “dangerous, wrong and illegal and for that I am sorry.”
But U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew said he did not believe Krugel’s claim that he was a changed man. Lew assailed him for “promoting hatred in the most vile way” and sentenced him to the maximum provided under federal guidelines.
Krugel was charged in the plot in 2001 along with JDL leader Irv Rubin, 57, who later committed suicide while in custody.
Before Krugel’s sentencing, lawyers for both sides argued over whether the defendant had lived up to the terms of a plea agreement in which he promised to cooperate with federal officials in investigating the long-unsolved slaying of Arab American leader Alex Odeh. Odeh, western regional director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was killed in 1985 by a bomb that was triggered to explode when he opened the door to his Santa Ana office.
Over the years, the FBI has investigated several onetime JDL members in connection with the slaying. No charges have ever been brought, and the JDL has denied involvement.
Defense attorney Jay Lichtman said Krugel had provided the FBI with the names of four persons mentioned by Rubin, the late JDL leader, as involved in the 1985 killing. The names were not revealed in court; however, one source close to the probe confirmed that three of them were former JDL members Keith Fuchs, Andy Green and Robert Manning. The trio had been publicly identified as possible suspects as early as 1988.
Fuchs and Green are believed to be living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Manning is serving a life prison term in California for sending a letter bomb that killed a Los Angeles secretary in 1980. The bombing was contracted by a fellow JDL member who had a business dispute with the owner of a firm where the secretary worked.
Lichtman acknowledged that Krugel had stalled for five months before revealing the names, three of which, he said, were already known to the FBI.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory Jessner declined to comment on Lichtman’s disclosure, saying it involved matters under investigation. Mary Hogan, the FBI agent in charge of the Odeh case, attended Thursday’s hearing and also declined to comment.
Reached at his business in Orange County, Odeh’s brother, Sami, said he remains “hopeful that whoever committed the crime will eventually pay for it.”
Krugel and Rubin were arrested by FBI agents Dec. 11, 2001, as they were mapping plans to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City and Issa’s field office in San Diego County.
After Rubin’s death, Krugel negotiated a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb Issa’s office, an offense that carried a mandatory 10-year prison term, and violating the civil rights of worshipers at the King Fahd Mosque, punishable by up to 10 years.
In his plea agreement, Krugel acknowledged that Rubin selected the targets to be bombed while he supervised a young JDL member, Danny Gillis, who was to plant the explosives. Gillis, however, tipped off the FBI and wore a concealed tape recorder during numerous meetings with the two senior JDL members.
Although explosive powder and pipes were seized from Krugel’s home, Lichtman said Thursday that the plotters were a long way from planting any bombs.
Moreover, he said, the tape recordings show that Rubin and Krugel contemplated setting off the bombs in the dead of night “because they didn’t want to hurt any innocent people.”
Jessner called that argument absurd, saying the conspirators could have caused many deaths and serious injuries. The judge agreed.
Lew also heard Thursday from Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who urged the judge to treat Krugel “like any other terrorist” and give him the maximum punishment possible.
At one point, the JDL plotters had considered planting an explosive device outside the council’s Los Angeles office. According to court documents, Rubin vetoed the idea because it might cause collateral damage to other offices in the building.
Al-Marayati said the Muslim community has been living under a lingering threat because of Krugel’s actions and because Odeh’s killers remain at large.
The Muslim leader said the bombing plot has had one unintended consequence: It has brought the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities together in their opposition to all forms of racial, religious and ethnic hatred.
In Washington, Issa issued a statement thanking the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office for foiling the plot and bringing Krugel to justice.
“I am thankful to my friends and colleagues, particularly those from the Jewish community, who have condemned these extremists who, motivated by hate and a desire to intimidate, plotted to bomb targets in Southern California,” he added.
The Jewish Defense League was founded in 1968 by Meir Kahane, a Brooklyn, N.Y., rabbi who preached that mainstream Jewish organizations had failed to protect America’s Jews from pervasive anti-Semitism.
Kahane moved to Israel in 1970 and founded the Kach party, which called for forcibly removing all Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories. He was assassinated in New York in 1990 by an Arab extremist.
Since Rubin’s death, the JDL’s membership has dwindled to about 20, said Joanna Mendelson, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, which has been tracking the JDL for years.
On Thursday, the JDL denounced Krugel as a traitor to the cause. Rubin’s widow, Shelley Rubin, who serves as the group’s administrative director, accused Krugel of falsely implicating her husband in order to obtain a reduced sentence.
“Unlike Earl, my husband proclaimed his innocence and would have waged a vigorous defense had his life not been cut short,” she said.
Shelley Rubin said she prays Krugel “is granted not one moment of peace until he dies.”
Under his 20-year sentence, Krugel will receive credit for the nearly four years he already has spent behind bars. He also could be eligible for a further three-year reduction for good behavior.