Persistence Brings Vindication
Businessman claimed for years that he was the victim of a
scam -- and of wiretaps by a famed private eye.
By Paul Lieberman and Seema Mehta
Times Staff Writers
March 9, 2004
LAS VEGAS - Until last week, Ami Shafrir had spent four frustrating years
telling anyone who would listen a seemingly incredible tale of being conned
out of tens of millions of dollars worth of businesses, property and cash,
and of being wiretapped in the process by private detective Anthony
Shafrir, an Israeli-born telecommunications whiz who came to the United
States 15 years ago "looking for my destiny" and wound up rich in
Beverly Hills, told his story in impassioned speeches during court
proceedings and on a website he called BigCrime.com.
He invited a Los Angeles television crew to follow him as he tried to break
into his own office building - only to be stopped by a security guard at
gunpoint - and pleaded with law enforcement officials to do something about
the people who had "robbed me of everything I had, including my
identity, livelihood, dignity."
Shafrir's story was that while he was going through a divorce, two brothers
- fellow Israelis - had befriended his wife, Sarit, and offered to help her
through the contentious split-up; that the brothers turned out to be Daniel
and Abner Nicherie, both of whom had criminal records; and that by the time
he and his now ex-wife found out who they were, it was too late.
In lawsuits filed first in Los Angeles Superior Court, then federal court,
Shafrir alleged that the Nicherie brothers had used forgery and other
schemes to loot his family's assets, including office buildings on Sunset
and Wilshire boulevards and a company that connected callers to Internet
The brothers also tried to frame him for credit card fraud and for molesting
his own child, Shafrir alleged, and paid $154,000 to Pellicano, Shafrir
said, to tap his phone and learn how he was trying to protect himself
But the worst part, Shafrir said, was how the older of the brothers, Daniel
Nicherie, spent millions of dollars of the looted money to hire teams of
lawyers to file lawsuit after lawsuit against him, so many that he was
forced into bankruptcy while he went from court to court, praying that some
judge would believe the wild conspiracy theory he spouted.
"I keep on waking every morning to a new day of nothingness, continuing
to battle the terror," he lamented last November, in a letter to the
U.S. Labor Department.
Shafrir often feared that no one believed him. In fact, three federal
agencies, the FBI, IRS and Labor Department, had opened investigations. And
on Thursday, when Shafrir flew here from Los Angeles for a meeting with the
elder Nicherie brother, federal agents moved in to arrest Daniel Nicherie on
seven counts of wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud and pension fraud.
On Friday, a 49-page arrest warrant affidavit was unsealed describing Daniel
Nicherie, 44, as a man with 11 aliases and a trail of victims stretching
across the country and spanning more than a decade. He faces a hearing today
in Los Angeles on whether he should remain in custody in the criminal case
that could shed light both on high-stake confidence games and the private
detective work of Pellicano, who is currently in prison on explosives
In addition to the Shafrirs, Nicherie allegedly duped a Los Angeles
physician and his father out of $275,000 by telling them they would be
joining other wealthy investors, including a prominent Israeli entertainer,
in a venture selling "close out" merchandise over the Internet. In
fact, the celebrity was not an investor and the money was used for
Nicherie's entertainment and "personal expenses," such as airfare
and meals, the government said.
As for Ami Shafrir, the government affidavit estimates that he and his
ex-wife had, indeed, been "defrauded out of at least $40 million."
Daniel Nicherie used his take, the document says, on everything from his
father's memorial service to a residence in San Diego to the hiring of
The government also echoes Shafrir's years of complaints that a cadre of
civil lawyers had exploited the court system "to help promote" the
Nicherie used the Shafrirs' own money to fund "approximately 106
lawsuits and 10 bankruptcy filings" to separate them from their wealth,
the government alleges. According to the affidavit, the accused con man
reasoned that "the legal system was not equipped to deal with attorneys
"Finally," Ami Shafrir said after Nicherie's arrest, "the
world believed me."
Shafrir got his start in electronics, owning a sales and repair business in
Israel. He met Sarit when she came in as a customer. They married in 1988
and the next year moved to the United States, convinced it was the only
place for a man of Ami's ideas and drive. The Shafrirs created several
companies to service the trades that had figured out how to profit off the
Internet, from psychic hotlines to racy chat rooms. One firm provided the
phone lines and another billing services for vendors.
Within a few years, they were living with their two children in the Mount
Olympus enclave, above the Sunset Strip, and were able to buy the small
office building in which they rented space and a 50,000-square-foot building
on Wilshire owned by producer Dino De Laurentis.
Their businesses were more successful than their marriage, however,
especially after Ami began spending time in Europe, expanding their
holdings. Suspicious of his conduct on the road and feeling neglected at
home, Sarit filed for divorce in August 1998. They still were negotiating
the terms of their split the next year when she met the Nicheries.
In a court declaration, Sarit Shafrir said the brothers gave their names as
"Nishrie," which is why she did not immediately find their
criminal backgrounds: Daniel Nicherie had received a one-year sentence in a
Texas case for defrauding the University Savings Assn. of $1.2 million in
loans. His brother, Abner, had pleaded guilty in 1999 to one federal
conspiracy count in a scheme to defraud pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Sarit said the brothers presented themselves as "wealthy businessmen
able to provide legal and consulting services," and offered to help
make sure her husband did not cheat her in their divorce. One way they
alienated her from him, she said, was by hiring Pellicano, three years
before the private investigator's purported wiretapping would make
front-page headlines. Sarit last year was one of the witnesses called before
a federal grand jury investigating the detective and lawyers who may have
benefited from such eavesdropping on Hollywood celebrities and other
Associates have said that Pellicano was cautious and secretive and never let
clients listen to his recordings. But court records suggest that he may have
departed from his rule in this case. Because Ami Shafrir often spoke in
Hebrew, his ex-wife said, the detective let the Nicheries, who also spoke
the language, come to his office to hear the tapes. They, in turn, sometimes
called her on a cellphone and let her listen to excerpts, she said.
"I heard [Ami] talking to his mother about me and the children,"
she recalled. "I really wanted to bury this man."
Sarit later alleged in court papers that the brothers had instructed her to
transfer her home to a Nevada corporation and her savings to accounts they
specified to keep such assets out of reach of her husband.
By the summer of 2001, she had second thoughts about the Nicheries and
declared, during a Los Angeles court appearance, that they were pulling a
"big scam." Sarit said she had helped them by signing her
ex-husband's nameto documents that put their Internet company under Daniel
"They showed me how to lie," she told a judge that Aug. 28.
"They showed me how to forge. They showed me how to do the most
She eventually helped her ex-husband in his own racketeering suit against
the Nicheries. The suit alleged that the brothers had driven him into
bankruptcy, tried to send him to prison by getting a man to claim that Ami
had helped him in a credit card fraud, and had even encouraged his daughter
to say he had molested her. Last year, Shafrir's suit was settled, on paper
at least, when the Nicheries agreed to pay him $4 million, though Shafrir
acknowledged that, like others who had sued them before, he might have a
hard time collecting.
The major fraud section of the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said
the arrest will not end an "ongoing" investigation. Assistant U.S.
Atty. Steven Olson said the findings of the three agencies will be presented
to a federal grand jury and that additional charges - and defendants - could
be included in an indictment.
Olson described Daniel Nicherie as "an economic predator" and said
he had been arrested now in part because he was in the country. Although
Nicherie lists his residence as Las Vegas, he also has a home in Belgium.
In Las Vegas on Friday, one of Nicherie's criminal lawyers, David Chesnoff,
asked a federal magistrate to let the defendant stay free and be with his
five children, one of whom suffers from Crohn's disease. But after hours of
legal wrangling, and more on Monday, Nicherie remained in custody pending
Nicherie's lawyers said they could not comment on the charges until they
hadread through the government's filing. "It's easy to make
allegations," said Los Angeles defense attorney Stanley Greenberg,
"harder to prove them."
Ami Shafrir, meanwhile, said he planned to see them all in court today.
"I wouldn't miss it," he said.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times
Accused Swindler Is Ordered Jailed as a Flight Risk
By David Rosenzweig
Times Staff Writer
March 26, 2004
A Las Vegas businessman accused of swindling two families out of more than
$40 million was taken into custody Thursday after a federal judge in Los
Angeles found that he was an "extreme flight risk" and no bail
conditions could reasonably assure his appearance at trial.
After hearings that spilled over two days, U.S. District Judge Stephen
Wilson reversed a decision by a federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas that
let Daniel Nicherie, 44, remain free on his own recognizance.
Nicherie was arrested two weeks ago on a complaint issued by the U.S.
attorney's office in Los Angeles, charging him with seven counts of wire
fraud, bankruptcy fraud and pension fraud.
He was taken before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy A. Leen in Las Vegas, who
ruled that he was a flight risk but allowed him to go free with the proviso
that he wear an ankle bracelet and carry a device that would monitor his
Within hours, however, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real in Los Angeles,
acting on a request by prosecutors, countermanded Leen's ruling, setting off
a legal tug of war that sent the controversy to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court
of Appeals in San Francisco. The appeals court sided with Leen, but when
Real overruled her again, the appellate judges ordered Real off the case and
directed that it be assigned to another judge.
Wilson did not elaborate on his reasons for ordering Nicherie jailed. Over
the course of the hearings, however, the judge appeared focused on
Nicherie's conduct after he was indicted on bank fraud charges in Houston in
Assistant U.S. Attys. Stephen Olson and Douglas Fuchs contended that
Nicherie fled the country and went to Israel after the indictment was
Defense lawyer David Chesnoff countered that Nicherie was unaware of the
indictment when he left the United States. He said his client had returned
voluntarily once he learned of the indictment. Nicherie pleaded guilty and
was sentenced to a year in prison.
At Thursday's hearing, Wilson heard testimony that before leaving the United
States, Nicherie had been told about the indictment by his lawyer in the
Texas case. Chesnoff conceded that Nicherie's conduct in that case did
"create concern," but argued that it happened 12 years ago.
Nicherie now has strong roots in the Las Vegas community, he said, and is
the father of five children, including one who suffers from a chronic
illness. The defense attorney said he planned to appeal Wilson's ruling.
Nicherie, a naturalized U.S. citizen who emigrated from Israel when he was
17, is accused of defrauding an Israeli-born couple, Ami and Sarit Shafrir
of Beverly Hills, of an estimated $40 million in cash, property and their
businesses. According to the criminal complaint, Nicherie then filed more
than 100 civil lawsuits against the Shafrirs to prevent them from recovering
their assets and forcing their companies into bankruptcy.
He also is charged with defrauding Ezra and Gil Mileikowsky of Los Angeles
of $275,000 in cash that he promised to invest for them but allegedly kept
for himself. Prosecutors said he falsely told the Mileikowskys that he had
made similar investments for some wealthy and prominent Israelis.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times