Simo Elbaz fled for Israel to avoid jail for extortion charges in Florida, then fled Israel and returned to hide out in Florida after a Tel Aviv court found he fleeced a business partner for $3 million.
Two decades after he fled the US to avoid jail time for extortion crimes, an Israeli national has returned to South Florida in order to avoid repaying $3 million to an Israeli businessman he ripped off. After twenty years of amassing wealth from shady business deals around the globe, fugitive Simo Elbaz has relocated back to Lake Worth, FL, the same sleepy town listed as his last known whereabouts on his US government “Wanted” webpage.
Elbaz was arrested at his Aventura, FL home in 2003 and charged with extortion and more than twenty other related crimes, along with dozens of other Israeli nationals in a sweep the FBI called Operation Stow Biz. Prosecutors alleged that Elbaz was a member of an Israeli crime syndicate that defrauded untold numbers of US citizens by claiming to be reputable moving companies, luring customers with lowball estimates, and then seizing their most precious possessions and holding them for ransom. Hector Pesquera, then head of the FBI Miami Office that commanded the operation, characterized the crimes as “despicable.”
The Florida lawyer Elbaz married just days before his arrest, Naomi Ann Zimmerman, told a court officer that Elbaz abandoned her, claiming she was “unable to locate him”. But a Tel Aviv District Court judgment issued last year reveals that while awaiting trial on the extortion charges, Elbaz fled the US and relocated back to Israel, and that Zimmerman joined him there several months later. Over the course of the next ten years, Elbaz and Zimmerman had two sons and raised them in an upscale neighborhood a half hour’s drive northeast of Tel Aviv.
In her February 2022 ruling against Elbaz, Judge Hannah Fliner noted that he and Zimmerman lived in Israel in affluence. During that decade, Elbaz told the Tel Aviv court, “I went through maybe 6 new Mercedeses. A new [Cadillac] Escala, a Lexus, thank God I did not lack for anything.” After a decade in Israel, Elbaz and Zimmerman decided to relocate their family back to Florida, but before they left, the couple schemed to ensure they would continue in the future to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle they were accustomed to.
In 2014, Elbaz convinced an Israeli acquaintance of Zimmerman to invest in a micro-lending business he founded in the Philippines called Capital Union. Zimmerman helped Elbaz draw up the loan contract, and the first two loan transfers made by the businessman – $250,000 from an eventual total of $2.9 million – were deposited into the Israeli bank account Zimmerman shared with Elbaz. Just weeks later, Zimmerman moved back to Florida and returned to the same job she had left a decade earlier; Elbaz rejoined his family in Florida by the start of 2016.
Meanwhile, using the funds loaned to him by the Israeli businessman, Elbaz purchased apartments in the third-tallest residential building in the Philippines, the Gramercy Residences, and rapidly resold these for profit. Between March 2015 and March 2016, Elbaz transferred around $300,000 from one of a dozen bank accounts he operated in the Philippines to an account held by Zimmerman at the Aventura, FL branch of Bank of America. On the same day that Elbaz transferred the last of these sums, Zimmerman purchased the family’s current home in Lake Worth. From that day onwards, Elbaz remained elusive, avoiding direct contact with the Israeli financier he fleeced.
By 2017, the Israeli businessman began to suspect that Elbaz had no intention of repaying his loans, which by then totaled nearly $3 million USD. The businessman reached out to Zimmerman, who had first introduced him to Elbaz, asking her to convey to her husband an urgent plea that he repay the loans in full. Now realizing that her marriage to Elbaz might make her responsible for returning the loans he took, Zimmerman filed for divorce from Elbaz in December of that year at the rabbinical court in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli businessman filed suit against Elbaz and Zimmerman in 2019 to recover his loans, and three years later, in February 2022, the Tel Aviv District Court judge ordered Elbaz to repay the plaintiff $3 million. But due to her insistence that she has not lived under the same roof as Elbaz since 2014, Zimmerman was spared financial penalty.
Fugitive’s wife, a Florida lawyer, harbored him and helped him swindle $3 million
More than five years after filing for divorce, Zimmerman remains legally married to Elbaz. By initiating divorce proceedings but never completing them, Zimmerman is ineligible to remarry any other person, according to American and Israeli law. But this limbo status also confers a distinct advantage: it shields her from Elbaz’s legal liabilities. By filing for divorce but never following through to fruition, she can claim to be separated from, but still married to, Elbaz. Under Israeli law, “one cannot hold a spouse responsible for the debts of the other spouse, as long as the marriage continues.”
Nevertheless, even before a couple is officially divorced, “a creditor can raise a claim of debt sharing, if a specific intent to share a certain property is proven”. Ultimately, the Tel Aviv District Court judge decided to exempt Zimmerman from any obligation to repay debts incurred by Elbaz, assuming that he could not possibly have enjoyed their Florida family home because he “cannot enter the US and therefore the [Lake Worth] property did not have the ‘cooperative atmosphere.’”
Admittedly, evidence entered at trial revealed that Elbaz had a daughter with a woman in the Philippines in February 2016. The following month, Elbaz traveled abroad in the company of a third woman who presented herself as his wife. But while Zimmerman and her children do not enjoy a monopoly on Elbaz’s affections, they still enjoy his largesse.
A plethora of evidence introduced at the Tel Aviv trial suggests that Elbaz and Zimmerman’s supposed divorce is a sham. “It turns out that over the years they regularly meet, along with their shared children, for vacations around the world,” Judge Fliner wrote in her decision. The sun-soaked hotspots referenced in the trial protocols include Panama, Cancun and Cannes, among others. “Additionally, the defendants [Elbaz and Zimmerman] have a joint lawyer that represents them both, which indicates common interests and cooperation between them,” the judge noted. Even in recent years, Elbaz “undertakes paying the joint expenses of [Zimmerman] and their children,” the judge stated. “As such, [Elbaz] paid for the bar-mitzvah of his son in 2019, for the flight tickets of Zimmerman and their children to Israel, to joint vacations, and for the flight tickets to the bar-mitzvah.”
If we are to take him at his word and examine his internet activities for the last five years, Simo Elbaz seems to be living in Florida, co-parenting his two young sons.
In September 2018, Elbaz incorporated a company in the UK, listing himself as the company director; the firm’s official certificate of incorporation records Elbaz as a resident of the US. That same year, Elbaz filed to register three trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark Office; for all three trademarks, Elbaz is recorded as the owner, and his address is listed as a UPS store in Lake Worth in the same zip code as the Zimmerman-Elbaz family home.
The following year, the USPTO approved Elbaz’s trademark registrations. Seeing as his fugitive status did not hinder his ability to openly conducting business in the US, Elbaz filed for another trademark, this time for a firm purporting to provide the same moving services he hocked two decades earlier, and for which he was arrested in 2003. In 2020, the USPTO approved Elbaz’ application to trademark “Move Network” and registered it under his name, at the Lake Worth UPS address.
Elbaz is also a known figure in the local Jewish community of Palm Beach County. Temple Shaarei Shalom of Boynton Beach has publicly issued congratulations to Elbaz and Zimmerman on the occasion of their wedding anniversary every February since at least 2016. Temple Rabbi Anthony Fratello confirmed to The Gray Zone that Elbaz, Zimmerman and their two sons regularly participate in temple activities, and have done so for years.
If this information had been raised at trial, Zimmerman would likely have been required by the Tel Aviv District Court to sell the Florida family home and repay the plaintiff for Elbaz’s debts.
Elbaz travels around the world evading extradition over US extortion charges
Legal action against Simo Elbaz accusing him of extorting Florida residents began in 2001, soon after the Israeli moving scam he ran was uncovered by accident, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center. Interrogating five Israeli nationals on suspicion of having prior knowledge of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, FBI agents soon realized that the men were innocent of that crime, but were in fact working illegally in the US for a moving company that cheated its customers.
Elbaz was eventually arrested and charged with extortion and other crimes associated with the same moving scam two years (and two wives) later, in 2003. While awaiting trial, Elbaz fled the US and was declared a wanted fugitive; the Department of Transportation maintains a “Wanted” webpage for Elbaz to this day. “This is no deep secret,” Elbaz admitted to the Tel Aviv District Court. “Every 5-year-old child can type my name into Google and see everything.”
Although his US rap sheet is a matter of public record in Israel, US authorities have made no effort to have him arrested there. The same is true for over a dozen Israeli nationals charged with extortion in the US who now live openly in Israel, operating social media accounts in their own names and posting photographs of themselves that are easily identifiable from the mug shots on their US Government “Wanted” webpages.
Using multiple Israeli travel documents under two different names, Elbaz has been able to jet-set around Europe and across the globe for two decades, visiting the UK, Australia and the Netherlands, among other countries. “I fly 30-40 times a year,” Elbaz told the Tel Aviv District Court. “I’ve travelled throughout the world… In Barcelona, Canada, you can look in my passports, for tens of years I travel throughout the world.” Court transcripts reveal that Elbaz also engaged a French lawyer to explore the possibility of acquiring Maltese or Cypriot citizenship, as well.
By his own admission, Elbaz uses the wealth he has accumulated to cross international borders discretely, citing his experiences in Hong Kong and the Philippines as just two examples. “In the Philippines you can get any permit you want for a sum of money,” Elbaz told the court, explaining how he entered the country via Manila’s secondary airport, Clark International. “There is a VIP service that gives you this option, for money… You don’t receive entrance and exit stamps on your passport.”
On March 31, 2016, however, Elbaz was arrested when he landed at Boryspil International Airport in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. “You land at the airport, 40-50 agents armed to the teeth jump on you,” Elbaz told the Tel Aviv District Court. “I was arrested by the border police, they claimed that my name appears on the internet and apparently I am wanted by the Americans.” Official Ukrainian documents reveal that Elbaz was arrested for an Interpol Red Notice, issued by the US over his 2003 extortion charges.
But before US authorities could take custody of him, Elbaz escaped Ukrainian custody and fled from the country. By the end of June 2016, Elbaz had managed to make his way to Israel; his passport showed no stamp for leaving the Ukraine, and he claimed in court that he bribed his way out of trouble. “From the moment of the arrest, it was a question of how much to pay,” Elbaz explained. “In the Ukraine I paid $5000 to the station commander.”
The Israeli state finally began to restrict Elbaz’s movements in June 2019 after he was sued for $3 million. According to Israel’s Interior Ministry, Elbaz has not left Israel since January 2020.
Elbaz has not been seen in Israel for the last two years, however, and it is unclear if he was even in Israel for the May 2021 Tel Aviv court proceedings against him. Just hours before the first hearing, Elbaz submitted to the court a doctor’s letter that was “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” according to the trial judge. “I am certain that the medical permit cannot be called as such. There is no detail whatsoever what is the reason preventing [Elbaz] from appearing. Or what is the illness that is likely to endanger those present,” the judge said. Nevertheless, in order to expedite the case, the judge permitted Elbaz to testify by live video from an unknown location.
Since the court issued a $3 million decision against him in February 2022, Elbaz has continued to elude all Israeli efforts to track him down and hold him to account. Neither the state’s Collection Authority nor private investigators have been able to locate him anywhere on Israeli soil.
Potemkin profiles claim Elbaz hails from Maryland, Montana, Mexico and other locales
Elbaz has yet to respond to repeated requests from this reporter regarding his criminal record and his current location. But in September 2022, Elbaz took measures to cloak his crimes, by flooding the internet with fake news about himself, extolling his alleged virtues. In what appears to be an effort to draw web traffic away from my reporting on his exploits, Elbaz created two new websites named after himself – simoelbaz.com and elbazsimo.com – and filled them with obviously fake content, with the presumed intent of buffing his biography.
Both profiles cite physical addresses for Simo Elbaz that are actually DHL drop-off locations. Both profiles feature pictures of thin young white men said to be Simo Elbaz, but who are actually male models posing in stock photographs. And both profiles exalt Elbaz in rambling texts that are replete with embarrassing errors and fantastic falsehoods.
The website elbazsimo.com claims that Elbaz has worked as an architect for over twenty years, building residential homes, commercial buildings, and even skyscrapers, including in New York City, where he allegedly designed “some of the most iconic buildings in the city”. Per his website, Elbaz is also said to have designed the city hall of Pasadena, California and the “City Center” of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The website claims that Elbaz is in great demand as an architect, describing him as “one of the most popular home designers in the United States,” and his practice as “one of the most sought-after firms in the country”. Elbaz even boasts that he is “one of the leading architects of our time”.
According to his website, he’s received “numerous” honors, including a “Reward” [sic] from Baltimore city officials and its chapter of the American Institute of Architects: “The city announced it will Give the City Key to architect Elbaz Simo for his help in keeping the original History of Baltimore” because he “made it his life’s work to save old buildings from being lost”.
Elbaz’s clumsy attempts at identity theft are obvious from his hagiography, his inflated resume and his irreconcilable origin stories, seemingly cobbled together from the biographies of numerous extraordinary individuals. One section of the website claims that he was formally trained: Elbaz allegedly “enrolled at architecture school” and “worked for several years as an architectural intern”. Another section of the site, thought, insists that Elbaz is “a self-taught architect”.
The most glaring contradictions are in the site’s descriptions of Elbaz’s origins. One section of the website states that Elbaz is “from Maryland”. A second section claims he was raised and schooled in Ohio. A third section asserts that Elbaz “was born and raised in the small town of Eureka, Montana,” while a fourth section of the site declares that he hails from Denmark!
Chutzpah: Elbaz websites claim he is an architect, a lawyer and even a state senator
Another eponymous website named for Elbaz makes equally audacious claims about his supposed successes in another profession altogether. The website simoelbaz.com claims that Elbaz has worked as a lawyer for twenty years, owns the biggest immigration law firm in New York, and now plans to expand it nationally, opening new offices in Florida and California. Elbaz is lauded for his service to immigrants, and for his philanthropy to immigrant aid groups. The site even claims that Elbaz founded the infamous immigrant aid group CHIRLA, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.
The website further claims that Elbaz is a sitting state senator – though it doesn’t specify which state – and that Elbaz himself effected “much-needed reforms to our nation’s broken immigration system” that “made it easier for illegal immigrants to get legal status”. Moreover, the website claims that Elbaz himself “employs undocumented workers,” adding that he is cognizant that this could result in a monetary fine, legal disbarment, and even criminal charges against him.
“Simo Elbaz’s compassion and dedication to helping others is commendable. His selflessness is an inspiration to us all,” the website simoelbaz.com reads.
Again, his website contains multiple conflicting versions of his origins. One section of the text claims Elbaz “grew up in Los Angeles” while a second section states that he “grew up in a small town in Texas near the Mexican border” and a third section asserts that before he learned law, he was a “retired software engineer from Mountain View, California”.
Another section of the site refers to Simo using a female pronoun, and yet another section changes his last name from Elbaz to Miller – a false identity he has been using for two decades, according to his US Government “WANTED” webpage. This alternate “Simo Miller” character is said to have been born in Mexico and immigrated as a child to the US, where he became a “successful businessman” and president of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
The two websites lay bare the outrageous impunity enjoyed by their namesake owner. Exposed as an extortionist and a wanted fugitive, Simo Elbaz is engaging in additional acts of fraud, in a pathetically poor attempt to create a digital smokescreen, trying to cover up his prior crimes.
But the potemkin profiles also engender amusement, because they are such obvious fakes. At times, they are also unexpectedly revealing; some of the website text sounds like it could actually have been autobiographical, written by and about the real Simo Elbaz.
At simoelbaz.com, Elbaz the lawyer is lionized for his alleged commitment to the cause of undocumented immigrants. But the text also accurately describes his own lack of legal status in real life, as an Israeli extortionist and fugitive from US justice, still living in Palm Beach County, just under the radar:
“There are a lot of challenges that come with being an illegal immigrant,” he says. “For one, you’re always living in fear of being deported. You’re also not eligible for many government benefits, which makes it hard to get by.” Simo Elbaz says that the biggest challenge for illegal immigrants is finding a way to live and work in the United States without getting caught. “It’s not easy to do, but it’s possible,” he says. “I’ve seen people make it work.”
It is unclear if Elbaz thinks that the tall tales spun on his websites will manage to convince anyone of his greatness, or dissuade anyone of his guilt – or if they are purposefully absurd, actually an epic exercise in trolling. Whatever the reason he publishes this drivel, the fugitive Simo Elbaz has been “making it work” in the US for the last two decades, in the comfort and company of his wife, Ms. Zimmerman.
The claims Elbaz makes on these websites – that he is a licensed architect and a licensed lawyer – are illegal under Florida law. According to Florida Statute Title XXXII Chapter 481, impersonating an architect is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. According to Florida Statute Title XXXII Chapter 454, impersonating a lawyer is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in jail.
Wanted for extortion and more than twenty other crimes committed two decades ago, Elbaz continues to commit crimes with total impunity.
Brazen ‘Stow Biz’ extortionists reveal the ridiculous extent of Israeli impunity
Twenty years ago, Simo Elbaz and the dozens of other Israeli extortionists who preyed upon untold numbers of American consumers were considered criminals serious enough to prompt an investigation by a national news network, CBS, as well as coverage from other mainstream media outlets in the US. The scandalous story was even picked up by Israel’s most popular paid newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.
“In the Israeli cafes and restaurants in Florida the arrests became the day’s conversation topic. People exchanged information: who was released with a cuff on their leg, and who was still in jail, whose home and Mercedes were confiscated, and who fled to Israel at the last minute,” reads a March 2003 report entitled “Jewish Scam” on Yediot’s website Ynet.
“The indictments reveal an amazing chapter of creative ideas by young people who arrived in America with the stated purpose of making a killing. The fraud suffered by innocent locals who entrusted their valuable possessions is heart-crushing.”
Today, however, the Israeli con artists arrested by the FBI in Operation Stow Biz can seemingly rest easy, assured that their freedom is not in jeopardy, confident that justice will never come for them. Whether they live openly in Israel, or just under the radar in the US, American authorities leave them be.
For decades, Naomi Ann Zimmerman Elbaz has been her husband’s partner in life and his partner in crime. She has kept the secret of his past crimes and his fugitive status, shielding him from legal consequence.
More than this, by keeping tight-lipped about her husband’s past, Zimmerman has allowed Elbaz to continue exploiting innocent victims for financial gain. Questioned in the Tel Aviv District Court over why she did not inform the Israeli businessman she introduced to her husband about his criminal record and fugitive status, Zimmerman replied that “she had no obligation to tell the plaintiff, of her own volition, about the FBI issue.”
Nevertheless, Zimmerman continues to practice law in Florida for the South Florida firm Roberts, Reynolds, Bedard & Tuzzio, and has never been sanctioned by the Florida Bar.
Simo Elbaz and Naomi Zimmerman did not respond to numerous requests for comment; neither did Israel’s Consul-General to Miami, Maor Elbaz-Starinsky. The Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation declined to comment for this article. US Consular Services in Israel told The Grayzone that they would forward the information about Elbaz to the appropriate stakeholders.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides continues to campaign to include Israel in the US Visa Waiver Program, which would grant Israeli citizens the right to enter the US without even having to apply for a visa in advance.
One down, two to go. The Knesset passed the first of three bills needed for Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program. Thanks everyone for your hard work on this, still lots more work to do- reciprocity matters!
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) February 21, 2023