People on 47th Street were shocked by the arrest of an elderly gem dealer in conjunction with a scheme to sell missiles to terrorists.
Yehuda Abraham, 76, of Ambuy Gem Corp., was arrested in August and charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, a felony. Court papers allege Abraham agreed to transmit $30,000 passed on to him by an associate without the proper license.
The case made headlines because it was linked to an alleged terrorist plot to shoot down commercial airliners. But a closer look at the case shows there never was any set plot, and ABC recently ran a piece saying there might be “less to [the case] than meets the eye.”
British arms dealer Hemant Lakhani, one of the three people arrested, is accused of trying to sell a terrorist a missile that could bring down a commercial airplane. Yet the “terrorist” he allegedly approached was a cooperating FBI witness, who arranged to have payment for the missiles transferred through Abraham and associate Mouinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, who also was arrested.
“You would have to ask yourself, would this have occurred at all without the government?” defense attorney Gerald Lecourt told ABC.
People on 47th Street were astonished at the arrest of Abraham, by all accounts a member in good standing of the gem business. All four New York newspapers ran stories the day after his arrest with quotes from family and neighbors calling Abraham—an observant Jew and grandfather—”honest” and “well-respected.” Most expressed shock that he would be involved in anything illegal and strongly doubted he would ever aid terrorists.
At press time, Abraham was free on $10 million bail because, says lawyer Larry Krantz, “the government conceded there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that he knowingly participated in an illegal arms transaction.
“He is not accused of aiding or abetting terrorist activity, and he would never have done so,” says a statement by Krantz. “Mr. Abraham intends to defend himself vigorously against the charges filed against him. He fully intends to demonstrate that he is an honest, reputable, and patriotic citizen of the United States, who would never have participated in a transaction that he believed was contrary to his moral fiber or the interests of his country or its citizens.”
Abraham’s arrest was accompanied by lots of fanfare and FBI agents. Media recorded him being escorted out of 580 Fifth Ave. by police, and building residents were told that once they left the building, they could not return.
This arrest is the latest in a series of law enforcement actions involving 47th Street—and another sign that authorities are looking closely at the industry. One investigator quoted in TheNew York Times called 47th Street “a nebulous world of murky financial transactions where federal agents have long focused on money laundering and other crimes.”
Abraham’s arrest wasn’t the only one in the month of August. Just two weeks prior, Rajesh Lakhani, 27, president of White Diamond, also at 580 Fifth Ave., was arrested for allegedly fencing gems embezzled from a competitor, the Daily News reported.