Members of Congress Call On Bolivia To Release Borough Park Man On Bail

The online petition drive to collect 25,000 signatures in a bid to secure White House intervention in behalf of Jacob Ostreicher, the Brooklyn man imprisoned in Bolivia nearly one year on suspicion of money laundering, has now collected more than 27,000 signatures.

Miriam Ungar, Ostreicher’s wife, said the signature that put the drive over the top time came in at 3 a.m. Tuesday. Many of those signing live in Brooklyn, but there are also signatures from as far away as Woodland Hills, Calif., and Arlington, Texas. The 30-day deadline for signing the petition ( ends Saturday night.

“We’ll then wait and see what happens,” Ungar said.

She said she spoke with her husband by phone Tuesday “and he sounded terrible.”

“He was out of breath because he is so weak,” Ungar said, explaining that her husband has been on a hunger strike since April 15 to protest his treatment.

“He’s been only drinking liquids –all kinds of liquids – and he now needs to be hospitalized,” she said. “He has lost about 60 pounds and now weighs about 115 pounds.”

Ostreicher, 53, an Orthodox Jew from Borough Park who is the father of five and grandfather of 11, was arrested June 3, 2011.
In a letter May 30 to General Freddy Bersatti, Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) requested that the Bolivian government afford Ostreicher “a fair opportunity to post bail and make every possible effort to guarantee a fair, transparent and prompt trial.”

The letter, which was also signed by New York Democrats Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Jerold Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, explained that Ostreicher had joined a group of Swiss partners in an agriculture venture and traveled to Bolivia in 2010 to take over management of the project. It noted that three months after his arrest, Ostreicher was to be released on bail “but the judge subsequently and unfortunately revoked his decision.”

“Mr. Ostreicher’s detention is related to accusations of illegal profiting and association with criminal organizations,” said the letter, which added that it is “evident that Mr. Ostreicher’s health has deteriorated over time and that bail, in anticipation of a speedy trial, is warranted in this case.”

Although Nadler, Velazquez and Gillibrand had each written to Brazilian authorities in the past, Ungar said this was the first time Schumer had personally intervened.

“In the past, his office called the State Department for updates,” she said. “I believe this concerted effort by all four of them has to do with Jacob’s health, which is escalating the necessity of everyone to do more.”

“I’m happy that my senators and congressmen are standing beside me in my quest to get Jacob’s freedom,” she told The Jewish Week. “Of course, we still need to do much more. We need Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to get involved here. She knows about the case because we’ve spoken with her office for many months. We just hope to get her more involved; we need her.”

Each of the four public officials also issued statements about Ostreicher’s detention. Schumer said there is “no reason he [Ostreicher] should not be offered bail while he awaits his trial.”

Gillibrand noted that she has met with Ungar and is “deeply concerned about her husband’s health and the mistreatment of Mr. Ostreicher being held without basic due process.”

Nadler said he found it “very troubling that Jacob Ostreicher has been held in prison for almost a year and still has not had the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law.”

Velazquez said that Ostreicher “deserves the opportunity to prove his innocence.”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.