Five Israelis agree to federal plea deal in kiosk extortion scheme

Federal prosecutors have struck a group plea deal with five Israeli crime associates charged in a Las Vegas extortion scheme.

Three of the defendants, Yakov Cohen, Lior Zaken and Ruslan Magomedgadzhiev, have already pleaded guilty. The other two defendants, Moshe Barmuha and Muran Magomedgadzhiev, are to enter guilty pleas before Chief U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt today.

Prosecutors agreed to the deal, which calls for some reductions in prison time, on the condition that all five defendants plead guilty in the extortion scheme.

Barmuha, 37, who lives in Southern California, has a lengthy criminal record in Israel. Prosecutors have said in court that he is "known to be affiliated with a very powerful organized crime family" there. His right arm was amputated below the elbow after a pipe bomb he planted in Israel underneath a rival’s car prematurely exploded.

All five men were charged in a six-count indictment in Las Vegas last year with attempting to extort thousands of dollars from two Israeli-born businessmen, Moshe "Moshiko" Ozana and Moshe "Chiko" Karmi, who run small electronics and cosmetics kiosks at local outlet malls.

Las Vegas police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents uncovered the extortion scheme, which brought to light the Israeli mob’s stepped-up presence in Nevada.

Israeli mobsters are involved in traditional rackets such as loan-sharking, extortion, money laundering, prostitution and illegal gambling, authorities say. Their activities here in recent years have revolved around lucrative illegal trafficking in Ecstasy, a popular drug on the Las Vegas nightclub scene.

Cohen, 24, an Israeli citizen who lives in Las Vegas, pleaded guilty March 25 to extortion and interstate travel in aid of racketeering, charges that together draw a maximum of 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Four other charges against Cohen, who faces a July 15 sentencing, were dropped.

Court-approved wiretaps in the investigation revealed Cohen threatening violence against the local kiosk owners and bragging about his ties to the Israeli mob.

Prosecutors alleged Cohen was trying to muscle in on the operations of Ozana and Karmi.

Cohen’s plea agreement describes Barmuha’s intervention in the scheme on his behalf, having phone conversations and meetings with Ozana and traveling to Las Vegas to attempt to meet with a reluctant Karmi. The plea agreement outlines several threats Barmuha made to Karmi.

In a telephone message, Barmuha said, "You will meet me. You cannot hide. Don’t think your family or friends can protect you." Later in the message, he told Karmi that "he would hunt him down and kill him."

Barmuha also left threatening notes on the door of Karmi’s apartment, according to the plea agreement.

Zaken, 38, pleaded guilty March 7 to interstate travel in aid of racketeering, which could earn him up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Prosecutors dropped one other charge of extortion against Zaken, who is to be sentenced on July 8.

Prosecutors alleged that Zaken helped recruit the Magomedgadzhiev brothers on Barmuha’s behalf to rough up Karmi. Ruslan Magomedgadzhiev, 30, worked for Zaken’s Los Angeles area moving company. Zaken, described by prosecutors as "muscle" for Barmuha, runs Express Moving & Storage out of the first floor of Barmuha’s home.

The Russian brothers were paid $500 each to travel to Las Vegas to confront Karmi, the plea agreement says.

On Jan. 8, 2010, according to the agreement, they assaulted Karmi outside his apartment.

In the scuffle, Karmi was thrown so hard against his car that it left a large dent, according to the agreement. Karmi, who suffered a "serious head injury" in the attack, was able to pull a handgun and shoot Ruslan Magomedgadzhiev twice as the brothers were fleeing.

Magomedgadzhiev, who waited to receive treatment for his wounds at a Los Angeles hospital, reportedly cooperated with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty before Hunt on March 9 during a closed proceeding. His agreement with prosecutors is sealed.

All five defendants have been in custody since their arrests last year.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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