AN American woman extradited from Israel to the United States last year on charges of blackmail and extortion was recently freed on probation. The verdict, handed down by the U.S. District Court in Boston, seems to conclude a 15-year saga involving high finance, a "Fatal Attraction" kind of affair with a Boston billionaire, a rape allegation and counter-allegations of blackmail and extortion.
Laura Goldman, 51, a former Philadelphia investment broker, fled to Israel in 2000 to evade charges of blackmail and extortion filed by billionaire Thomas H. Lee. For nine years the U.S. federal authorities battled to secure her extradition. At the end of last year, a few months after she was sent back to the U.S., she pleaded guilty to two counts of extortion in a plea bargain with the court and was released on a five-year probation with serious restrictions.
If convicted Goldman would have faced up to 20 years imprisonment, five years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each of the 18 counts, according to a press release issued by the FBI in April.
"It seems to me that the charges against her hardly justified extradition, especially in view of the prolonged and costly procedure and all the appeals and delays and other court activity it involved," attorney Gaby Lasky, who represented Goldman in Israel, told Anglo File.
"Goldman was sentenced... to 5 years probation after pleading guilty to two counts of attempted extortion on November 24, 2009," the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement on December 9. Goldman's defense attorney in the US, Oscar Cruz, was cited in the local media saying this was a good deal for his client "under the circumstances."
Goldman's friends in Israel said they were surprised by the plea bargain. "The mountain turned into a molehill. After so many years of investing tremendous efforts to extradite her we were sure she would be sentenced to a long time in prison," a friend of Goldman's in Tel Aviv told Haaretz.
According to American newspaper reports, Goldman met Lee in the mid-90s in the course of her work as an investment broker. Goldman denied reports of a brief affair between herself and Lee. After a meeting with Lee, which Goldman said was for business purposes, she accused him of rape and later began demanding money from him, the U.S. Justice Department said in the probation announcement.
"Goldman had made a series of extortionate threats against the primary victim and his family members between October 2001 and October 2002, while Goldman was a fugitive in Israel," stated the announcement. "Goldman was seeking to obtain from the victim payments for her 'mental health' treatment and other substantial monies."
According to a report in The New York Times in January, Lee, 65, paid Goldman $200,000 in 1995, and $15,000 more for psychiatric care, after she signed an affidavit admitting she hadn't been raped. However, a source familiar with the affair told Haaretz that Goldman had never withdrawn the rape charges.
In Israel, Goldman lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Tower. While here, TheMarker published an interview with her on January 5 about her contacts with disgraced billionaire fraudster Bernie Madoff, with whom she almost invested.
She said in the interview that several of her clients had wanted her to invest with Madoff for them, when the swindler, who was later convicted of Ponzi-style fraud, was at the peak of his success and popularity. But his refusal to discuss his investments and a number of things he said that didn't check out raised her suspicion and she didn't feel at ease about working with him, she told TheMarker.
During her stay in Israel Goldman had private clients in the investment business and wrote for Globes, the business daily, and the Pajamas Web site. She also appeared on Fox, Sky Television, Israeli Television and CNBC, commenting on economic affairs. Meanwhile, Goldman's lawyer Gaby Lasky fought against the extradition.
"We did everything legally possible to reverse the decision to extradite Ms. Goldman," Lasky told Anglo File. The process, including an appeal to then Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, held up the eventual extradition.
The appeal to Friedmann yielded an agreement draft allowing Goldman to stay in Israel, Lasky said. However, the agreement would have barred Goldman from ever returning to the United States - where her family lives - without standing trial. She would also not be able to travel to other countries without risking arrest. She finally decided not to sign the agreement, Lasky said.
Shortly afterward Goldman heard that her father in the U.S. was seriously ill and asked the authorities to expedite her extradition. But the Supreme Court in Israel refused, a friend of hers in Tel Aviv said.
She was arrested by U.S. marshals and put on a plane to the US on Holocaust Day last April. Goldman was taken to the airport in cuffs, and remained cuffed for 15 hours on the flight to the U.S., she told a close friend after her arrival. She was heartbroken to find that her father had passed away shortly before she returned, the friend said.
Once in the U.S. she was held in prison until the trial in November.
Goldman's probation deal bars her, among other things, from contacting Lee or any members of his family or associates.
She is also forbidden to travel to certain counties in New York, Florida and Massachusetts - including Palm Beach county where her mother lives. Her brother and two nephews live in New York.
Goldman is not allowed to speak to the media and her passport has been taken from her for the duration of the probation. A close family friend told Haaretz she misses Israel very much and when the required time has elapsed she intends to petition a U.S. judge for permission to visit.