Israel To Plead Guilty To Bail-Jumping, Eventually

Aug 7 2008 | 8:41am ET

When dealing with the likes of Samuel Israel, it seems no one wants to take any chances.

The convicted hedge fund fraudster, who swindled his Bayou Group clients out of $450 million, tried twice yesterday to plead guilty to charges of bail-jumping, but was stymied both times, once by procedure, and once by a wary federal judge.

As Israel himself noted in the first of two hearings yesterday at the federal courthouse in White Plains, N.Y., “this is a fairly straightforward issue.” His SUV was found idling on a bridge north of New York City with the words “suicide is painless” scrawled on the hood on June 9, the day he was set to report to prison to begin a 20-year sentence. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence that he did not, in fact, kill himself—his presence in the flesh in the courtroom—U.S. District Court Judge Kenenth Karas demurred after Israel pronounced himself “60 to 70%” competent to enter a plea.

“I’m a little shaky,” he told the judge. “But that’s life.”

Not wanting to give the one-time fugitive cause for appeal, Karas delayed his plea hearing until Sept. 16 to allow Israel to finish being weaned from methadone. Despite his trembling hands and self-professed cloudiness, Israel insisted that he wanted to enter a plea, and the federal prosecutor said “the government is confident going forward on this today.” But Karas refused.

“I have to be satisfied that you’re competent,” Karas said. “The fact that there is some doubt about that makes it imprudent to go forward today.”

Earlier in the day, Israel’s attempt to waive his right to indictment and plead guilty to a felony information document was derailed by chance: the random selection of Karas, who, unlike most federal judges, does not allow magistrate judges to take pleas for him.

“I understand that you have decided to enter a plea of guilty,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith told Israel during the earlier hearing, before sending the case to Karas.

Israel faces an additional 10 years in prison on the failure to report charges.

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