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Man called Israeli organized crime leader gets prison for drug trafficking, extortion

A Tarzana man who prosecutors say was a leader of an Israeli crime organization was sentenced Friday in federal court to 32 years in prison for drug trafficking, money laundering and extortion.

Moshe Matsri, 49, who is also known as “Moshe the Religious,” sat shackled in court wearing a blue kippah, glasses low on his nose and black Crocs. He rocked back and forth in his chair as U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero explained how extensive wire taps played throughout the trial portrayed a man “willing to use force to help undercover agents who he believed were Colombian drug traffickers to attempt to collect debts owed to them.”

The sentence came after a federal jury found Matsri guilty in October 2014 of a series of crimes, including conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine and conspiracy to commit extortion.

Matsri was a known crime figure in the San Fernando Valley with deep ties to the Abergil organized crime family, according to prosecutors. The organization is based in Israel but conducts business around the world.

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“As CEO of this multi-faceted criminal business, [Matsri] used his extensive, sophisticated network to move over $660,000 in cash he believed were drug proceeds across international borders and across the United States, in exchange for over $57,000 in commissions,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed with the court.

Matsri’s lawyer, Dean Steward, said he would file an appeal. He described how Matsri, the father of five, was a fixture in his community and a deeply religious and charitable man. 

“A visit every couple of weeks isn’t like having dad home,” said Steward after the proceedings. “So it’s devastating.”

Otero was not swayed. He noted that it’s not surprising for a figure like Matsri to live a “double life.” Matsri had been on pre-trial release and was wearing an ankle bracelet when he committed many of the crimes, Otero said.

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“The only way to deter him it seems is to incarcerate him,” Otero said from the bench.

The case began in 2010 as an investigation into the Sinaloa cartel, Otero said. Matsri has been in custody since July 2013, when authorities from several state and federal agencies, with cooperation from police in Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and Israel, arrested him and several co-defendants.

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