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U.S. v. HEBRONI

February 12, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
V.
YARDENA HEBRONI, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Weinstein, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM, FINDINGS AND ORDER

Through her Panamanian precious metal and jewelry business, defendant allegedly committed serious drug money washing offenses involving tens of millions of dollars. She is a citizen of Israel domiciled in Panama with no relatives or friends in this country. She appeared voluntarily in this court after her property was seized in Panama.

Defendant moved for release pending trial. After a hearing she was ordered released if she could satisfy conditions specified by the court. The magistrate judge held hearings determining that the property pledged fit the conditions.

It was the court's view that, for reasons stated orally on the record, the conditions would ensure that defendant could prepare for trial and that she would be present at the trial. See generally transcript of evidentiary hearing Dec. 12, 2001, pp. 39-56. The court was particularly concerned that without release there was a serious possibility that defendant would not be able to properly defend herself.

The government appealed from this court's decision of December 12, 2001 ordering release on conditions. The court of appeals remanded the case by its January 8, 2002 order: "We remand to the district court to consider the determinative question specified by § 3142 ___ whether any combination of conditions would reasonably assure Hebroni's appearance as required."

Following remand, the court held two additional evidentiary hearings. See transcript of hearings on February 8, 2002 and February 11, 2002. It was aided in the inquiry because the government has now furnished, pursuant to order of the court, essentially all the documents it will rely upon and an outline of its testimonial case.

Given the circumstances of the case, it was the court's view that conditions of incarceration of the defendant and the nature of the case made it unlikely that due process could be served without some form of release. Due process rights of the defendant have been temporarily protected at substantial cost to the judicial system, by assigning a room in our already overburdened court house where she is brought early each morning from jail, works all day on scores of boxes of documents under guard of at least two marshals and then is returned to jail at the end of the day.

Because of winter conditions and her need for kosher food, the court has had to intervene to ensure that she obtains proper nutrition as well as adequate clothing during transportation. She shows signs of physical and emotional deterioration as a result of her incarceration.

Defendant has been held awaiting trial for sixteen months. The delay was not caused by her. In large part it was necessitated by the need to assemble and transport many boxes of defendant's company files from Panama where they had been seized by the Panamanian government.

The trial will take up to a month and will begin a month from now. Unless defendant is released she will have been incarcerated for eighteen months, while presumed to be innocent, in a foreign land, separated from her child.

The court has ordered the names of a number of prospective witnesses kept secret until trial to protect them. The defendant's release does not add to the dangers to these or any other witnesses. The threat comes from traffickers in drugs who she cannot influence.

The court, pursuant to the order of the court of appeals, puts aside considerations of the conditions of defendant's health and her ability to prepare for trial properly. It is deciding whether to grant release solely on the issue of whether the "combination of conditions [now imposed by the court] would reasonably assure Hebroni's appearance as required."

The court finds that there is no reasonable possibility that given the terms imposed, during release she "will endanger the safety of any other person or the community." 18 U.S.C. § 3141(b).

The probability of success of the government's case has been considered. This factor is relevant in deciding whether a defendant is likely to wish to flee or to stay and defend. A conviction will result in the loss of millions of dollars in assets seized by the governments of the United States and Panama. In effect, conviction would lead to defendant's financial ruin.

A date for trial and for sentence has been fixed. Defendant has been warned that fleeing will result in her being tried in abseutia, increasing the possibility of conviction. Should she be successful in fleeing, defendant as well as her sureties would suffer the most serious consequences. Were she extradited (which is assumed to be unlikely) or apprehended after attempting to flee, the penalties would result in a more severe term of imprisonment and probably in loss of all her assets. These risks make it unlikely that she will wish to violate the conditions of her release.

The alleged criminal scheme alleged is wide and serious. The indictment has now been superceded and strengthened as a result of the court's suggestions so that it can be assumed, for present purposes, to state a valid criminal cause of action. The proof will necessarily be primarily based upon documents in a number of languages showing transactions in many countries. Authentication and interpretation of these documents will be difficult. There are a large number of documents which have been moved from their natural setting in defendant's Panama business establishment; many are in disarray. Given the government's burden and the ...


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