FEDERAL COURTS

Weston family faces frustration of court fight after grief of terror bombing

 

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The Wultz family posts updates about its lawsuit against the Bank of China at danielwultz.com, on Twitter and on Facebook. It also maintains a charitable foundation in his memory at dcwfoundation.org.


ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

In the spring of 2006, Weston teenager Daniel Cantor Wultz had the brightest of futures. A star sophomore at Plantation’s David Posnack Hebrew Day School, Daniel, 16, talked about someday becoming a rabbi.

His deepening interest in Judaism was part of what took him on a family vacation to Israel that Passover, to visit relatives and learn about his roots. When he and his dad had a hankering for shawarma pita sandwiches, they took a taxi to the popular Rosh Ha’ir stand near the old Tel Aviv bus station.

Just as they visited the stand, a bomber blew himself up, sending shrapnel flying around Rosh Ha’ir. Eleven people would die, including Daniel, and 70 others would be injured, including his father, Yekutiel “Tuly” Wultz.

After Tuly Wultz and his wife, Sheryl, buried their son, they vowed to do whatever it took to protect another Daniel from dying at the hands of a terrorist. And thus began an odyssey that has layered frustration on top of heartbreak.

For the Wultzes, preventing the next attack meant going after the parties they believe are responsible for killing Daniel: Syria and Iran, which aided the Islamic Jihad group that carried out the attack; and Bank of China, which the Wultzes claim acted as a conduit for the money used to fund the bombing.

They won their case against Syria and Iran. A U.S. District Court judge in Washington last year ordered a $323 million judgment against the governments of those countries to the Wultz family. The ruling came down six years to the day after Daniel’s death; the Wultzes have yet to receive a penny.

Their federal case against the Bank of China, however, has run into a recent roadblock and landed the Wultzes at the center of an international legal and political clash between Israel, China and the United States.

The hiccup involves the testimony of a key witness, former Israeli security official Uzi Shaya. He was set to testify on behalf of the Wultzes that he was present for a 2005 meeting where Israel warned the Chinese government about Bank of China accounts with possible ties to terrorist groups.

Now, the Wultzes and their attorney say Israel’s government, which pushed the family to file the suit in 2008, is trying to block Shaya from testifying in order to bolster Israeli relations with China.

“We’re going to win this case, with or without Israel’s help,” Tuly Wultz said last week.

Israel initially prompted the Wultzes to pursue the Bank of China lawsuit because, as the only U.S. citizens who lost a family member in the April 17, 2006, bombing outside the Tel Aviv restaurant, they could file the case in America, with the country’s substantial antiterrorism laws.

“The Wultzes did not get into this on their own,” said the family’s attorney, Lee Wolosky, who previously helped lead U.S. counterterrorism efforts under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “After they lost their son, they were contacted by the Israeli government, which encouraged them to bring this lawsuit. It’s not like they were just sitting in Weston and all of a sudden they received specific Bank of China account numbers that showed money going to terrorists. They had substantial help from the Israeli government.”

Israel did an about-face, Wolosky said, when the Chinese threatened to cancel Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s state visit to China in May. Since then, the question of whether Israel would allow Shaya to testify has been up in the air.

A spokesman for Israel’s Consulate General in Miami declined to discuss the case. Bank of China said through its attorney that it denies the South Florida family’s allegations that the bank did business with known terrorists.

“Bank of China follows applicable anti-money laundering and counterterrorism-financing requirements, and complies with applicable laws and regulations,” Mitchell Berger, a partner at Washington law firm Patton Boggs, said in a statement from his client. “The bank’s internal policies strictly prohibit any provision of financial services to any terrorist entities.”

Israel’s recent lack of cooperation in the Bank of China case has left the Wultzes feeling “frustrated, angry,” Tuly Wultz said.

“When Daniel was killed, I couldn’t fight for him. I couldn’t protect him,” said the elder Wultz, a veteran of Israel’s army who runs a financial-services firm in South Florida. “We feel very, very committed to this fight now. We will do everything we can to make sure what happened to Daniel at the restaurant will not happen again. We will fight forever.”

The Wultzes have in their corner U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, both of whom are longtime advocates of Israel who now are calling on that country to keep its commitment to the Wultz family.

Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House’s Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, said she raised the issue while leading a congressional delegation to Israel this month, stressing to Israeli officials the importance of them providing the Wultz family what they need for their lawsuit.

“I am hopeful that we can bring this case to a conclusion that is satisfactory to the family, but we need community support to not waver at this critical time,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Added Wasserman Schultz: “In South Florida, we all know too well of the tragic circumstances surrounding the cowardly terrorist attack that took Daniel Wultz’s innocent life. I have been working, hand in hand with the Wultz family and the state of Israel to ensure any and all of those involved in this terrorist activity, including the Bank of China, pay for their crimes so that justice can be served.”

The Wultzes and Wolosky said they still expect Shaya to testify, even over Israel’s objections. Wolosky acknowledged that Shaya’s statements could be critical to his clients’ case — proving that Bank of China officials chose not to act on Israel’s warnings about certain accounts being linked to terrorist groups — but said he would still have a shot at victory if Shaya doesn’t testify.

“It’s certainly going to be helpful to have eyewitness testimony from an individual who was in some of those meetings,” Wolosky said. “It’s certainly not the only way we can succeed in our case, but it would be very helpful to us.”

Although legal experts say the Wultzes will have a difficult time getting the $323 million owed to them by Syria and Iran, the couple says they remain optimistic and view the ruling itself as a major victory for their cause.

“If we can get that message conveyed by the outcome of the judgment against Syria and Iran to the government of any country that is thinking about participating in terrorism in any way, shape or form, maybe they’ll decide against it,” Tuly Wultz said.

Daniel’s parents set up a charitable foundation in his memory, through which they send students on educational trips to Israel and helped develop an iTunes application called Mitzvah Project for Jewish teens preparing for their bar or bat mitzvahs.

If they ever recover the money from Syria and Iran, the Wultzes said they have ideas for programs and other ways to help carry out their mission “to stand up for justice and peace and against terrorism,” Sheryl Wultz said.

She said she’s heartened by the reach of the Daniel Cantor Wultz Foundation and its social media pages, which have led to connections all over the world.

“It’s really an amazing way to connect, to give and receive information,” she said. The Wultzes said they are grateful for the support they’ve gotten and continue to receive from their South Florida neighbors. They say the support has helped the family move forward after the tragedy it endured.

Seven years after Daniel’s death and five years into a lawsuit that has many months of discovery, depositions and other legal wrangling ahead, the Wultzes say it’s crucial that they keep fighting.

“We started something that is very important. Not only for us — to close this chapter — but also for many others,” Tuly Wultz said. “When we prove our allegations against the Bank of China, we feel that it will be a safer place in America, in Israel, in Europe.”

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