FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – Fulton County’s district attorney is answering questions about an 11Alive Investigation.
As 11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe’s first reported, Eliahu Shetrit and his wife, Ayelet Ellituv, are accused in a Ponzi scheme that took more than $1 million in cash and diamonds from Atlanta victims. The couple fled to New York City after they were abruptly released by Fulton County authorities.
11Alive Chief Investigator Brendan Keefe talked with Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard about the case.
11Alive’s Brendan Keefe: The wife in this case tried to flee the country – she was arrested at JFK boarding an international flight – and yet she was essentially let out on a low bail. She didn’t even have to turn in her foreign passport. How did that happen?
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard: We asked the judge at that time to hold them in jail, and that they would not receive a bond. In our county, we’ve got a small jail, and we’ve had a number of jail problems in the past, and I suspect that our judges are fairly sensitive about having people in jail, and particularly when a property crime is involved. So the judge let them go.
Eli Shetrit and Ayelet Ellituv went right back to New York City, where the 11Alive Investigators found them living in an even more expensive apartment at the W Hotel.
11Alive: Why did the victims have to track down these suspects? Why wasn’t Fulton County trying to get the NYPD to arrest them in New York?
Howard: I’m not so sure that didn’t happen, but I’m always glad to see that victims are involved.
One of the metro Atlanta victims, diamond dealer Bobbie Livnat, said that they notified the district attorney of the suspects' change of address.
"And the DA's office was pretty much like, 'Well whatever...but if you do find out their new address please provide it to us.' Well that's not my job. I've been doing that job for months," Livnat said.
11Alive: The victims say they were promised they would be notified. The detective in this case wasn’t notified of this bond hearing. The victims weren’t notified. Did the assistant district attorney presiding over that bail hearing know all the information in this case? Did he know they were foreign citizens?
Howard: While we were expecting the hearing, we didn’t expect it on that date. So one of the lawyers who presented the evidence at the case was a lawyer assigned to our non-complex division. It was not one of the lawyers we would have preferred be there – and that’s one of the lawyers’ from our white collar division.
Documents obtained by the 11Alive Investigators show the Fulton District Attorney’s Office is “short-handed.” From April to September, the White Collar Crime Unit didn’t have a single investigator to assign to the case.
11Alive: How many investigators are assigned to the White Collar Crime Unit?
Howard: We have one full-time investigator, we've got one paralegal, and two lawyers.
11Alive: I mean, this investigator has been on since September?
Howard: That’s correct:
11Alive: How long did you go without a single investigator in the White Collar Crime Unit?
Howard: We didn’t go without one, we just didn’t have one who was only assigned to White Collar.
11Alive: If those who would seek to defraud Fulton County residents from their money knew that there was no permanent investigator assigned to the White Collar Crime Unit for a period of months or years –
Howard: It wasn’t years…
11Alive: How long was it?
Howard: It was just a couple of months…
11Alive: There wasn’t an investigator to assign to this case, so the case was dormant during that time?
Howard: No, not true. We had a paralegal and we also two attorneys, so…There’s no doubt that the number of people involved with White Collar Crime I think it easily ought to be doubled, and that’s why I’m happy that you’re doing the story, so maybe some of our county commissioners will see it – hopefully none of the crooks will see it – but I’m hoping the county commissioners will see it and they will understand the frustration that these victims feel.
Bobbi Livnat still doesn’t know where her 11 diamonds went, but she knows the defendants are living in luxury in a $1.4 million dollar apartment in New York -- even after declaring bankruptcy.
“As far as they’re concerned they’re free citizens right now,” Livnat said. “Right now there’s not even a court date on their calendar.”
11Alive: What is the status of the case? Do they have a court date?
Howard: No, they don’t have a court date, and I’m really glad Brendan that you brought that up. We keep asking for a larger staff, because I believe these cases ought to be investigated much quicker than what we’re able to do now.
The district attorney says not long ago there wasn’t even a White Collar Crime Unit in Fulton County, but he says now it ought to be doubled in size. He says the case is a priority and he’ll be taking it to a grand jury “soon.”
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