Suspect in Westport jeweler's killing nabbed in Spain
Published 6:13 pm, Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Federal authorities have charged a man with murder in connection with killing a Westport custom jeweler in his business at the Compo Shopping Center last month.
Authorities say Levene fatally shot Yekutiel Zeevi, the 65-year-old owner of Y.Z. Jewelry, and wounded one of Zeevi's business associates the night of Dec. 8.
Levene is also charged with stealing approximately $300,000 in diamonds before fleeing to Europe.
According to a federal criminal complaint filed in Washington, D.C., Levene met with Zeevi in the shop, located in a locked second-floor suite in the Compo Shopping Center, pretending he was going to purchase several large diamonds he had arranged to buy earlier that month.
Authorities say he then shot Zeevi and another man before fleeing.
Zeevi's business associate -- Ronen Konfino, 48, of New York City -- survived the shooting and had been able to help police with their investigation.
Levene was formally charged with one count of federal murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of causing death through the use of a firearm and one count of interference with commerce through robbery, according to U.S. Attorney for Connecticut David Fein.
New details about the crime and subsequent investigation were revealed in court documents filed with Levene's arrest.
Authorities charge that Levene contacted Zeevi's business in early December. He allegedly asked Zeevi if he could find diamonds between 2 and 3 karats in size and valued between $45,000 and $75,000. On Dec. 7, Zeevi and Konfino met Leveve at Y.Z. Jewelry. Levene examined the diamonds, but told the owner he would have to "sleep on it" before making a purchase, according to the documents.
The next day, however, authorities said Zeevi told Konfino that Levene had scheduled another meeting that night, and he asked Konfino to bring to Westport the diamonds that the prospective customer had inspected previously, as well as additional diamonds. When Konfino arrived at the Post Road East business that night, Zeevi and Levene were already in the business.
Six diamonds with a total value of approximately $300,000 were shown to Levene, and after inspecting the gems, Levene pulled out a gun and shot both Zeevi and Konfino, according to the documents. Zeevi was pronounced dead after being taken to Norwalk Hospital, where Konfino was also treated and later released.
Levene fled from the store and headed to Philadelphia, authorities said, where he flew to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, known as a center of the international diamond trade. He later journeyed to Spain, where he was arrested by Spanish national police, U.S. authorities said.
At Gold's Deli in the Compo Shopping Center, where Zeevi's business was located for nearly three decades, news of the homicide suspect's arrest was the topic of intense discussion Tuesday morning.
Until Tuesday, a copy of the wanted poster of the suspect that was distributed by Westport police hung on the deli's cash register.
Eileen Rosen, a friend of the family, said, "I'm thrilled that they found him; this is great news for the family. He was very close with his wife. Nothing can bring him back, her heart will ache forever, but I'm just so thrilled that they found him. Everybody in the community loves him."
Another Gold's customer, Deanne DiNardo, said: "It's ironic, I was just talking about this with Jim (Eckl, deli owner). We were just talking about that and then I heard this great news. I'm so happy."
Eckl added, "We're very joyful, this is awesome news, we're very happy. Everybody loved Kuti," the nickname that Zeevi was known by family and friends.
"I think this will bring a certain amount of closure to the Zeevi family," said Rabbi Robert Orkund of Temple Israel in Westport. "Nothing can bring Kuti back or make up for his loss, but I think this will provide some comfort to the family, knowing that the man who apparently did this will be brought to justice."
Louis Bianchini, getting his hair cut Tuesday at the Compo Barber Shop, where Zeevi used to get his hair cut, said, "There was never any doubt in my mind that they'd catch him. I knew the police department would work in a meticulous way. This is good news for the community."
Fein, Westport Police Chief Dale Call and Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff all issued statements commending authorities for tracking down a suspect.
"I want to commend the Westport Police, Connecticut State Police, FBI, U.S. Marshal's Service, and law-enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, New York and Spain for their expert, coordinated investigation that has led to the apprehension of this defendant," Fein said.
Call added Westport police are "proud of the efforts of law-enforcement officials on the local, state, federal and international level who all contributed to the investigation and apprehension of this suspect."
"We hope that it brings some peace of mind to the victims' families," Call added.
Westport police had enlisted the help of the television show, "America's Most Wanted," in finding the suspect after weeks went by without authorities being able to identify a suspect.
Joseloff said town officials are "deeply grateful for the painstakingly hard work of Westport Police, State Police, those from other states as well as federal agencies in apprehending the suspect."
"We hope the end of one of the most intensive manhunts in the town's history will help ease the nightmare of this crime for the family and all Westporters who have been outraged by its wanton cruelty," he said.
"Obviously, there must have been significant police cooperation to apprehend him," he said. "We look forward to further developments and whatever prosecution develops."
Kennedy said the number of jeweler homicides in United States has declined to about six a year from about 15 to 20 killings annually 20 years ago as a result of improved police work and focus on jeweler-related crimes.
"Also, jewelers are more aware that they should not resist armed robberies," he said.
Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and raised on a farm, Zeevi became a commando in the Israeli navy. His military service, said Rabbi Orkand, reflected Zeevi's fearless character, but he was also a man who loved the company of his family and friends.
After starting S.Z. Jewelry Manufacturing with partner Thomas Sarno about three decades ago (the name was changed to Y.Z. Jewelry after Sarno's death two years ago), Zeevi led an active life in Westport. The jewelry maker enjoyed food, dancing and singing. He would hug and kiss children, pet dogs and "schmooze" with people he encountered, Orkand said. He also enjoyed playing recreational soccer in Westport.
But his family had also suffered tragedy in recent years.
They had rallied around Zeevi's daughter, Tali Zeevi-Trager, prior to her death at age 34 in 2007 in an effort to find her a bone marrow transplant match. Her story was featured on local television stations and in newspapers, and she was chosen to speak at the United Jewish Communities' International Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, D.C.
Diagnosed in 2003, Tali, who lived in West Hartford, believed she had beaten the disease, until it returned in 2005, only three weeks before she was married, according to the speech she gave in 2006. Her parents, friends and community searched for a donor, holding bone marrow donation drives that brought out hundreds of people. A match was found, but it was too late, according to an article in the Jewish Ledger published after her death. Zeevi continued to encourage others to donate bone marrow after his daughter's death.
Five days after Zeevi's death, the birth of what would have been his first grandchild took place. A son was born to Zeevi's son Neer and his wife Liora in New London.