Equipment dealer who used Ky. bank to defraud investors is sentenced to 10 years in prison

bestep@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2014 

A heavy-equipment dealer from New York who used a Kentucky bank in defrauding investors of $33.7 million has been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.

A judge also ordered Eilat Lev to repay his victims, but court records indicate he doesn't have money to do that.

If Lev has a job in prison, he must pay at least $60 each three months toward the $33.7 million balance, U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove ordered.

Lev also forfeited property in Westchester County, N.Y.

Van Tatenhove sentenced Lev on July 14, but the judgment was not available on the court website until this week. Lev was already in custody before the sentencing.

Lev had a business called International Tractor Co. and traded construction equipment such as graders in the U.S. and abroad, according to court documents.

Lev solicited investors to help finance equipment purchases, with the promise that he had buyers lined up and would turn significant profits.

In reality, Lev acknowledged he used money from new investors in some cases to pay older ones and falsified documents to cover the misappropriations.

By late 2008, Lev didn't have money to keep the scheme going. He was indicted last year.

He pleaded guilty to one fraud charge involving a wire transfer of $340,000 in May 2008 related to a "wholly fictitious transaction," according to his plea agreement.

Prosecutors dropped 18 other counts.

Lev was charged in Kentucky because one large investor, Larry E. Harris, opened a line of credit at First Southern National Bank in Somerset in 2005 to use in sending money to Lev, according to court documents.

In letters to Van Tatenhove, family and friends of Lev described him as a dedicated family man and loyal friend who worked hard to build a successful life after emigrating from Israel.

His brother said that Lev, who had served in the defense forces, rushed back to Israel to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and prevented other Israeli soldiers from executing a captured Syrian fighter; another writer said Lev opened his home to others after Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012.

But Harris and others said Lev was a scheming liar who had robbed them of the fruits of a lifetime of work.

One man said the financial strain contributed to him and his wife of 29 years divorcing. Another said the losses caused him to lose his business, and that he had to sell off assets to keep the bank from taking his home.

Harris said in a letter included in the court file that Lev approached him after Harris' 18-year-old son, Ryan, was shot and killed in Jessamine County on Jan. 5, 2002.

Lev had nothing to do with that homicide. But Lev used it as a way to hook Harris when he was consumed with grief, saying that his son would want him to continue to prosper, Harris said.

Harris was the largest victim in the case against Lev, losing $15.5 million.

Harris, who now lives in Florida, said Lev's fraud had nearly broken him financially. He said Lev had shown no remorse and was even accused of making another fraudulent equipment deal after he was indicted.

"I gave this man my 100 percent trust and he in turn repaid me by stealing everything from me," Harris said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1

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