Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2008
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 The Toronto Star
Author: Betsy Powell
Bookmark: (Ecstasy)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


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.

"The theory of the Crown is that this was a drug deal that went bad," 
Ontario Superior Court Justice Frances Kiteley told the jury in 
summarizing some of the case.

Abitan, a manager at the National Bank in Montreal, was initially 
charged as well, but her charges were dropped after she agreed to 
testify for the Crown.

After the shooting, police found four kilograms of cocaine on the 
28th floor where the ice machine is located, down the corridor from 
the room rented on that Canada Day weekend by Starchik and shared by 
Erez and Abitan.

Abitan, 30, testified on the day of their expected departure, she was 
alone in the room when she found a black Adidas bag in which there 
was a considerable quantity of cocaine.

Later, when she and Erez returned to the room, he was shot by 
intruders whom Abitan described as young black men. Starchik was 
found beaten in the parking lot with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Photographs entered as exhibits showed the hotel room was ransacked. 
"Based on that evidence, can you reasonably draw an inference that 
the two black males had done that because they were looking for the 
cocaine?" the judge said to the jury before they retired.
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