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Who killed Broward hotel owner?
Miami Herald, 7/7/97

Herald Staff Writer

When an assassin's bullet shattered the window of Zvika Yuz's Mercedes-Benz outside his Fort Lauderdale hotel in May, it came as no shock to federal investigators who for years have traced Israeli organized crime ties to South Florida.

Violence, they say, is almost commonplace in Yuz's circle.

Yuz -- a loving father generous to a fault, who borrowed heavily to pay back friends in a failed investment scheme -- was gunned down outside his Ramada Sea Club Ocean Resort by a killer wearing a fake beard and carrying a doll.

The reasons he died may never be fully known. He was surrounded by a culture of secrecy. But federal authorities are taking seriously an informant's allegations that his murder was tied to South Florida's Israeli underworld -- a complex enterprise allegedly orchestrating the movement of millions in ill-gotten drug proceeds through a myriad of businesses here.

``They have all this drug money they need to clean, and they are looking for any cash business to funnel it through,'' said the federal informant, who has already pleaded guilty to his role in the money laundering. ``Jewelry stores, T-shirt shops, restaurants, strip shopping malls, flea markets, everything. This is just the tip of it.''

Until his death, Yuz was not the focus of federal interest in Israeli organized crime. But for more than a decade, agents from almost every federal law enforcement agency -- IRS, INS, SEC, FBI, DEA, Customs, aided by the Israeli national police -- have kept tabs on some of Yuz's associates and acquaintances.

The feds have been looking for proof of a kaleidoscope of crimes -- murder, money laundering, fraud, robbery, bribery, drug trafficking, even the attempted purchase of a Russian nuclear attack submarine.

The investigation has leapfrogged across the world -- from corruption at the old Hialeah/Opa-locka Flea Market to unsolved murders in Israel to murder and drug trafficking in New York to money laundering in Miami.

Success has been elusive, at times, for investigators.

``These people don't do business like your typical American businessmen,'' one law enforcement source said. ``They don't have contracts and closings. They do business on a handshake and a promise.

``That's one reason there is so much violence. It's also why it is so difficult to trace.''

``The drug money from Los Angeles gets sent to New York or Miami to be laundered and the other way around, just to make it harder for us to trace,'' said another source close to the investigation. ``It's like a big triangle.''

The targets of these probes say authorities can't prove anything because there is nothing to prove.

Many associates linked to list of top criminals

Frustrated investigators are pursuing many leads in Yuz's death, including a possible connection to a Yuz associate found dead last month in Georgia.

Isaac Benarroch, 64, was being sought for questioning in Yuz's murder because of some threatening letters he sent Yuz four years ago.

Police also suspect that Benarroch shot at a building owned by a friend of Yuz when he was trying to retrieve $600,000 he had lost in a failed investment scheme promoted by Yuz.

Benarroch's partner in a Venezuela tennis club, Ricardo La Bergere, was also shot execution-style in West Palm Beach in February. Neither of the killings has been solved.

Benarroch was a sworn enemy of Yuz. U.S. authorities are more interested in Yuz's circle of friends and their associates, many with ties to a famous list of 11 top Israeli organized crime figures.

The list, leaked to newspapers in 1977 by the Israeli national police, became a news event of Watergate proportions in Israel. Many of those with ties to the list, all proclaiming their innocence, left the country and settled here.

Their business relationships are complex, extend into many facets of South Florida life and have attracted the close attention of investigators.

Among those linked to the infamous list of 11: Eli Tisona, now in the federal lockup in Miami awaiting trial on money-laundering charges; his brother Ezra, convicted for his role in corruption at the flea market; Shalom Genish, a partner at the market and the target of numerous federal probes; and Shimon Levy, Yuz's partner in the hotel.

Another is Ilan Kashti, 61, an Israeli jeweler in Miami who has already pleaded guilty to his role in laundering millions for the Cali drug cartel.

Kashti -- whom enemies call a liar and con artist -- has told The Herald and federal authorities that Yuz predicted he would be killed on the orders of ``one of the most dangerous men in the whole east of the United States.''

Kashti has turned government informant in exchange for the possibility of a reduced sentence and, he says, because his own son has turned against him in favor of the flash and money of the Israeli syndicate. He says the entire operation centers on Eli Tisona.

Eli Tisona, 53, who now owns a condominium at Turnberry Isle, made millions in Israel as head of the country's Wimpy hamburger restaurant chain. He was on the ``list of 11.''

Tisona also owns a fish farm in Bogota, where he was arrested in April. He was then brought to Miami to face a 1995 indictment on charges he masterminded a conspiracy to launder $42 million in New York drug proceeds through Miami jewelry store accounts. He denies the charges.

Five others were also indicted in the scheme, including Tisona's daughter, Kineret Tisona Kashti; his son-in-law, Yehuda Kashti; and Yehuda's father, Ilan Kashti.

Jewelry stores are a favorite way to launder drug money, sources said, because cash is so easily hidden among huge and flexible profit margins.

The Herald twice interviewed Ilan Kashti at his invitation for a total of three hours. He continually demanded money in exchange for the interview and was repeatedly told there would be no payment.

Finally, he broke off communications and would say no more.

Asked if he was frightened for his life, Kashti said, ``No, I'm not scared. I'm careful.''

Then he added, taking out a holstered weapon, ``They let me keep my concealed weapons permit.''

Kashti has refused an offer to enter the federal witness protection program.

Government witness says
hotel money was motive

It's Kashti's contention that Yuz was killed on orders from Tisona, either because of unpaid debts or because Yuz was standing in the way of the sale of the Ramada Sea Club Ocean Resort. According to Kashti, Tisona wanted the proceeds to pay legal bills.

``He has all this money, but lawyers won't take drug money,'' Kashti said. ``They are very sensitive about that. He needed clean money.''

Yuz, who had only a 12.5 percent, $100,000 interest in the hotel, was also its manager.

``All I know for sure is that he was telling people he was a dead man if Eli Tisona came back to the U.S,'' Kashti said.

Tisona's attorneys call the allegation ``ridiculous'' and the rantings of a man trying to save himself.

``I know the feds have made a deal with this guy and they are stuck with him, but I wouldn't put too much faith in what this Ilan Kashti says,'' said Joel Kaplan, who represents Tisona's daughter and her husband.

``The evidence will show that it was [Ilan] Kashti who was engaging in all the criminal activity.''

Tisona did not respond to a written request for an interview in jail. His trial is set for January.

Kashti is locked in a bitter feud with his son, who he says calls the shots in Tisona's South Florida crime organization.

Yehuda Kashti, 37, declined to discuss the case with The Herald. But he recently told an Israeli newspaper he has disowned his father.

``I am ashamed, destroyed, broken,'' said the younger Kashti, who is out on bond. ``I take responsibility myself for every day that Eli Tisona sits in prison. It is on my conscience.''

In January, Yehuda Kashti was charged with careless driving after he crashed the gate at his Turnberry Isle condominium complex. The Jeep he was driving was registered to another subject of a federal investigation, Ludwig ``Tarzan'' Fainberg.

Fainberg, manager of a Hialeah strip club called Porky's, was arrested last year on charges he tried to buy a Russian nuclear attack submarine to smuggle drugs from South America.

Principal figures had
fingers in many pies

Within days after Yuz was shot -- even before he died -- Tisona prosecutor Richard Gregorie came to the courtroom where longtime Yuz friend and attorney Joel Hirschhorn was trying an unrelated case.

``He asked me about this guy Tisona, whether there could be a connection,'' Hirschhorn said. ``I was able to confirm that [Yuz] did indeed have an acquaintance with Yehuda Kashti. What it was exactly, I have no idea.''

Hirschhorn said he established through a mutual friend there were meetings between Yuz and Yehuda Kashti, but not what was on the agenda.

Yuz ``was hard pressed for money for a long time, I know that,'' Hirschhorn said. ``He was borrowing from whomever he could.''

Hirschhorn referred to Yuz's general partnership in a failed business that federal authorities have called one of the largest fraud schemes in Florida history -- Premium Sales Corp.

From 1989 through 1993, Yuz was busy wooing Israeli investors into the Aventura-based business.

It collapsed under the weight of a federal investigation in 1993, leaving 1,600 investors with losses totaling $300 million. Yuz, who was never charged, had collected $22 million in investments from influential Israeli figures who wanted their money back, Hirschhorn said.

One of those investors was Isaac Benarroch. Police suspect he came to hate Yuz after Premium's collapse. Another investor was Shalom Genish -- a man who federal investigators believe is far more dangerous.

Yuz and Eli Tisona had a mutual friend in Genish.

Genish, 50, has acknowledged in court papers that his friendship and business ties to the Tisona family go back more than 20 years. Genish is a millionaire with a self-admitted gambling problem and a penchant for turning up in federal probes of Israeli organized crime.

He once owned the largest construction firm in Israel and hobnobbed with prime ministers, but he was business partners with at least two men on the infamous list of 11.

Now, Genish is a fugitive from his home country on charges of bribery and tax evasion. He could not be reached for comment. His attorneys declined to comment.

``They have nothing,'' Genish said in a 1993 interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedoith Achronoth. ``They have already investigated me from A to Z. Shalom Genish is as clean as a baby.''

Genish and Eli Tisona's brother Ezra -- a professional backgammon player and gambler who was also named on the list -- were the principal partners in the Hialeah/Opa-locka Flea Market.

Ezra Tisona and another partner named Joseph Lazar were convicted of stealing $1 million in fill dirt to develop the market. Lazar was charged with bribing an Opa-locka planning official and took $1,000 to acquire for Genish what turned out to be a forged U.S. passport. Two other Israelis connected to the market were charged with money laundering.

In 1990, Lazar was murdered execution-style. Genish remains a suspect in that unsolved killing, investigators say.

Records show that Genish also has ties to Israeli organized crime in New York.

About the time Genish was caught in Nassau, Bahamas, with his fake passport, federal agents in New York were wrapping up their 1990 probe into a Nassau-based Israeli ring whose members were eventually convicted of money laundering, drug trafficking and five execution-style murders.

Genish was never charged criminally, but federal prosecutors accused him of collecting and stashing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the enterprise. The civil forfeiture case was settled when Genish agreed to testify against one of the murderers in future cases.

A New York jeweler sued Genish and Yuz, among others, for allegedly laundering proceeds from one of several New York robberies through one of Yuz's companies, Carmel Foods, which was set up solely to invest in Premium. Although Yuz was later dropped from the suit, that case is still pending.

Weeks before his death, Yuz flew to Las Vegas to meet with Genish, Hirschhorn said. ``I don't know why. I know it was business.''

The connections don't end there.

Yuz's partner in the Ramada, Shimon Levy, has his own ties to the list of 11. Levy lives in a Plantation house built by Genish and spent a year in Israeli prison in 1981 after he helped hide two top organized crime figures wanted in a grisly double murder in Israel.

Both of the crime figures, eventually sent to prison for the murders, were on the list of 11. Levy did not return Herald telephone calls.

``Frankly, all this totally blows me away,'' said Hirschhorn, who represented Yuz in the Premium bankruptcy case.

``I've known him for years, and this whole drama, this web of intrigue, was a side of him he kept hidden.'' Copyright 1997 The Miami Herald




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