There have been a few newspaper and television stories about the arrest and imprisonment in Bolivia of Jacob Ostreicher of Brooklyn on suspicion of money laundering. But now his wife, Miriam Ungar, has decided to publicly press for his release through an online petition that asks the White House to intercede on his behalf.
“He is being held without a shred of evidence,” the petition reads (freejacobnow.com). “On Sept. 23, 2011, the judge ordered his release based on evidence submitted by the defense; just days later the same judge reversed his decision and was promoted. A new judge resigned after five scheduled hearings. …
“In your capacity as President of the U.S., we urge you to exercise the powers vested in you to see to it that Jacob does not spend another day in this archaic prison. With all avenues having been exhausted, it is up to you, Mr. President, to make sure an innocent man walks free.”
Ungar said the White House requires petitions to receive 25,000 online signatures within 30 days in order for them to be brought to the president’s attention.
She said her husband’s lawyer proved during a hearing that the money he had invested in Bolivia was legal.
“We even got a letter from Interpol that said he was not wanted anywhere, and the judge said he had proven that he should be let out,” Ungar said. “He ordered my husband’s release and six days later reversed his decision before he was freed. The judge later told us that he was threatened with jail time [because of that decision], so he reversed his decision. He told us he was not going to prison for my husband.”
Ostreicher, 53, an Orthodox Jew from Borough Park, claims he was swindled by a business associate and railroaded by corrupt prosecutors. His problems reportedly began in 2008 when his Swiss money manager, Andre Zolty, and others invested $20 million in Bolivian cattle and rice fields.
They hired a local woman to manage the business, and Ungar said the woman embezzled the money, investing it with a drug trafficker. Ungar said her husband then filed charges against the woman for theft and that she too is now in prison. Ungar said that when her husband went to authorities to give a deposition against the employee, he was arrested on suspicion of laundering drug money.
The Associated Press reported that the prosecutor insists Ostreicher, the father of five and grandfather of 11, was placed in preventive detention because he failed to prove the investors’ money was obtained legally.
“At no time were his rights ever violated,” Roberto Acha, the prosecutor, told the Associated Press.
Ungar said that during his imprisonment, two grandchildren have been born that her husband has never seen.
As part of the stepped-up campaign to free her husband, Ungar said that last week there was a demonstration in front of the Bolivian Consulate here calling for Ostreicher’s release. Among the demonstrators was her assemblyman, Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).
“She came to me three or four months ago and presented me with the information about her husband,” Hikind said. “We did a lot of homework on this, thinking that maybe he did something wrong. So we spoke to as many people as possible and learned that there is a human rights group in Bolivia that supports him. At the end of the day, we had a comfort level that this guy is being held 11 months and there seems to be something terribly wrong here. He had not been [formally] charged with anything, and there is a lot of concern throughout the community.”
Hikind said the rally was attended by as many as 400 people.
“We’re now sitting down and planning a strategy and planning to get senators involved,” he said. “The idea that an American citizen can be held in a country 11 months without being charged and with little action by the U.S. State Department … If he did something wrong, charge him and bring him to court.”
Hikind said Ungar has now arranged for a meeting with the State Department in Washington and that at her request one of his staff people will accompany her.
“We are very committed to doing everything humanly possible to bring this to the attention of our government at the highest level,” Hikind said. “There has been such a miscarriage of justice already. They have taken this guy and thrown away the key. It’s time to act. It’s just a horror what is going on there.”