L.A. was a natural fit for Israel’s drug smugglers

When ecstasy first appeared on the drug scene, Israeli criminal networks were uniquely placed to take advantage.

The drug flowed largely from underground labs in the Netherlands and Belgium, where Israeli mob families already had infrastructure in place for smuggling diamonds.

As a hub for Israeli immigrants and a party town, Los Angeles instantly became one of the epicenters for the mid-'90s Israeli ecstasy invasion.

Among the Israeli-connected characters who strode across the ecstasy landscape were Hai Waknine, an Israeli American racketeer from Van Nuys, and Jacob “Cookie” Orgad, who hung around with “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss and hired ultra-Orthodox Jewish teenagers as his drug mules.


U.S. investigators eventually caught up with Waknine and Orgad.

In September 2006, Waknine was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal racketeering charges.

A Times profile described Waknine as a flashy high roller whose connections to the Israeli mafia, police said, helped him smuggle in thousands of ecstasy tablets in the shoulder pads of women’s apparel.

Higher up the ecstasy chain was Orgad, an Israeli immigrant who started as a modest electronics store owner in L.A. before becoming an enforcer and call-girl supplier for Fleiss.

By the time of his arrest in New York in 2000, Orgad had allegedly created a global smuggling ring that brought an estimated 9 million ecstasy pills (worth around $270 million) from Europe to the United States. In 2001, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute ecstasy and operating an ongoing criminal enterprise and was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison.

Last year, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles filed charges against the man prosecutors allege is running the global operation that supplied Waknine and Orgad: Itzhak “Big Friend” Abergil.

Israeli police arrested Abergil and his brother Meir in August; the two await extradition to face charges that include assassinating a rival drug dealer in 2003 outside an Encino restaurant and allying with a San Fernando Valley Latino gang known as the Vineland Boyz to distribute ecstasy.


Times staff writer Joe Mozingo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.