Israeli 'Art Students' Suspected
Of Spying In South Florida
By Jeff Shields
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The United States deported dozens of Israelis on immigration violations last year, including at least five from an art school in South Florida, after reports they were posing as students to gain access to government buildings, federal officials said Wednesday.
Israelis in South Florida, Dallas and San Diego were sent home by the Immigration and Naturalization Service last year on visa violations, an INS spokesman in Washington said. But authorities were first drawn to them based on a suspicion that they were spying, according to one federal law enforcement agency.
Thomas Hinojosa of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the DEA compiled an internal report after several branch offices throughout the country reported "suspicious activities'' by individuals presenting themselves as Israeli art students. The Israelis were allegedly trying to gain access to DEA facilities, Hinojosa said.
The DEA report said the youths' actions "may well be an organized intelligence-gathering activity," the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
The DEA forwarded the report to the "appropriate federal law enforcement authorities,'' Hinojosa said.
The INS deported the individuals a short time later, both before and after Sept. 11, when security was tightened.
INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said about 20 Israelis from San Diego, an undetermined number from Dallas, and five or six from South Florida were deported.
"The general modus operandi was that these individuals were in major metropolitan areas selling art at street locations. In some instances they were near federal buildings. In some instances they were not,'' Bergeron said.
All were deported for either overstaying their visas or working illegally while on a student visa, he said.
Rumors about the students have circulated since March 2001.The story gained momentum this week when a French Internet site, Intelligence Online, reported the United States had broken up a massive Israeli spy ring.
None were charged with espionage, and Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden said.
The Israelis in South Florida were affiliated with Universal Art, which lists addresses in South Miami and Sunrise, according to Rodney Germain, the INS spokesman in Miami.
On Wednesday there was no sign of any company called Universal Art Inc., at 10873 NW 52nd St. in Sunrise. The address listed in Florida incorporation documents came back to a light industrial complex next to the Sawgrass Expressway and south of Commercial Boulevard. No one answered the door, and several occupants had never heard of the company.
The company's officers, Yitzchak Shish and Chava Sagi, are not listed. They were not among those who were deported, Germain said. ___
Staff Writer Christy McKerney and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Jeff Shields can be reached at or 954-356-4531.
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel Originally Published 3-7-02

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