Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Man in Harbour Castle cocaine trial was convicted in New York of using Hasidic Jews as drug couriers

A Toronto jury that has begun deliberations in a cocaine trafficking case was never told that one of the accused is an international "ecstasy kingpin" whose life story is the subject of a Hollywood film project. In 2001, Sean Erez, now 38, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy in Brooklyn, N.Y., after admitting to running an ecstasy distribution network that used young Orthodox Jews to smuggle the "hug drug" out of Amsterdam and into the U.S. The Israeli-born Erez, who had previous drug convictions, was sentenced to 15 years in a U.S. prison. In 2005, Ottawa approved his transfer to a Canadian facility and he was paroled in the summer of that year. His notoriety is such that a quick Google search turns up various accounts of the infamous scheme attributed to Erez, who figured customs officials would never suspect young Hasidic Jews of serving as drug couriers. "The recruiters believed that these couriers would not attract the attention of customs inspectors because of their conservative background and their religious dress and appearance," said a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. "The recruiters exploited the youth and relatively sheltered background of their recruits by falsely telling them that they would be smuggling diamonds." According to the popular Internet Movie Database, Montreal-born moviemaker Ian Kessner is developing a feature film called Glow, "based on the real life story of ecstasy kingpin Sean Erez." Kessner could not be reached for comment. But Nataly Abitan, Erez's ex-girlfriend – and the Crown's key witness in the cocaine case – is listed as a "friend" on Kessner's Facebook page. Erez's latest trouble with the law began on a visit to Toronto in the summer of 2006 when he was shot in the stomach and legs at the upscale Westin Harbour Castle hotel on the waterfront. Police later charged Erez and another man, Evgene Starchik, 26, of British Columbia, with possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking.

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