GREENBELT, Maryland — Jury deliberations in the fraud trial of Yukom Communications CEO Lee Elbaz took a bizarre turn on Tuesday when one of the jurors, juror number nine, told the judge that he had indirect contact with third parties over the weekend who had influenced his thinking about the verdict.
The juror was dismissed, an alternate juror was summoned, and jury deliberations began from scratch.
At 1:00 PM on Tuesday, Judge George Hazel convened the prosecution and defense teams and explained that on that morning, he had been approached by juror number nine, who said that he overheard a conversation on Sunday that had influenced his thinking and the fact that he overheard this conversation was weighing on his conscience.
According to the judge, the juror said that while at a local Maryland dining establishment Sunday, he had overheard a conversation taking place in Hebrew, and understood the conversation to be about Elbaz.
“The conversation had been in Hebrew,” said the judge. “He did not understand the conversation but he heard someone refer to her as a bad person, to that effect, and he also understood that something was missing from the case.”
The judge said the juror told him that this had impacted his personal view of the case, that he had been leaning toward a not guilty verdict and after he heard the conversation he began to lean toward guilty. Despite having heard this conversation on Sunday, the judge said the juror told him that he did not relay this to him until Tuesday morning, the fourth day of deliberations.
“He deliberated for a day with the rest of the jury and did not mention this to anyone else in the jury but believes it may have impacted his views,” Hazel said.
After the revelation about the juror, Elbaz’s defense team requested a mistrial while the prosecution asked to dismiss him, bring in an alternate juror and begin the jury deliberations from scratch.
The judge ruled that an alternate juror would be brought in and deliberations would start over. Deliberations resumed Tuesday afternoon.
Hazel said he questioned the other 11 jurors and is satisfied they didn’t hear anything about the incident. “I am completely confident that no one other than the juror (who heard the comments) was ever made aware of that communication,” the judge said.
Barry Pollack, Elbaz’s defense attorney, provided the Times of Israel with a few additional details about the conversation the juror said he overheard. He said the conversation occurred on Sunday and had been a conversation among more than one person in Hebrew.
Asked who might happen to be having a conversation in Hebrew about the Elbaz trial at a local eatery, Pollack speculated, “Perhaps an avid reader of The Times of Israel or the Associated Press” — the news outlets that have been covering the trial.
Elbaz was arrested by the FBI on September 14, 2017, as she got off a plane at JFK airport in New York. She was indicted by a US federal grand jury in March 2018 for allegedly participating in a scheme to “defraud investors in the United States and across the world.” Elbaz is charged with three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The prosecution’s case was prepared by Department of Justice trial attorney Ankush Khardori. It was investigated by FBI special agents Jeremy Desor and Gregory Fine. Department of Justice attorneys Henry Van Dyck, Rush Atkinson and Caitlin Cottingham represented the US government at trial.
Yukom provided sales and marketing services for BinaryBook and BigOption, the brand names for internet-based businesses that purportedly sold and marketed binary options.
Five former employees of Yukom Communications Ltd. and Numaris Communication Ltd. in Israel — Lissa Mel, Shira Uzan, Liora Welles, Austin Smith and Yair Hadar — signed plea deals with the US government. All but Mel testified at the trial on behalf of the prosecution, saying that Elbaz instructed them to lie to investors in order to get those investors to deposit as much money as possible, and to do everything possible to prevent them withdrawing their funds.
A separate indictment against nine other defendants, including Yukom owner Yosef Herzog, says the scheme involving BinaryBook and BigOption cost investors more than $145 million worldwide, including thousands of victims in the US.
AP contributed to this report.