HONOLULU – It was like a scene out of a suspense novel, only for well-known East Oahu realtor Judy Jakobovits, the situation quickly became real.
She was the target of an August 2013 federal sting operation that took place at the popular Kahala Mall in which she took $210,000 from her client, Allen Yamada, the “master agent” of an illegal Internet gambling operation.
According to the arrangement with Yamada, Jakobovits was to launder his $200,000 in cash through two cashiers checks made out to a local escrow company. The money was purportedly to purchase a house for Yamada, creating the illusion that Yamada had acquired the money through legal means. Jakobovits would keep the $10,000 difference as a laundering fee.
What she didn’t know was Yamada was actually arranging the deal on behalf of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division and FBI in an effort to nab the 73-year-old fiery red headed realtor.
The investigation into Jakobovits started in November 2012 after Yamada told investigators that Jakobovits, an acquaintance of his wife’s, had laundered money for him through a 2007 real estate deal. Yamada paid $830,000 that year for a home he purchased through Jakobovits and used $300,000 from his illegal gambling operation.
In December 2013, Yamada was charged with money laundering, filing a false tax return, and aiding the transmission of false wage information. He pleaded guilty in May 2014 to all three counts, and began serving his 10-month prison sentence in July 2014. He must pay $45,120 in restitution to the IRS and forfeit his home, valued at nearly $800,000.
A year before that, Yamada cooperated with a subsequent federal investigation into Jakobovits. He phoned her on May 30, June 30, July 2 and August 4 of 2013 to arrange the purchase of a second property. She agreed to broker the deal and launder his money in exchange for 5 percent of the transaction or $10,000.
On August 8 when Yamada called her for a fifth time to arrange to meet him with the cash at Kahala Mall, Jakobovits seemed suspicious. She said: “I’m not going to get into any trouble—none of the bills are marked – you know what I mean – the FBI won’t be after them.”
When they met at the mall in the parking lot in Yamada’s car on Aug. 9, Jakobovits said: “I better not get arrested for doing this.”
When the takedown occurred at the mall that mid-afternoon, FBI and IRS-CID seized the $210,000 in cash – their cash – and the $200,000 in cashiers’ checks from Jakobovits.
“Criminal enterprises often produce a lot of cash, and that becomes a real problem for criminals. They need a way to take their dirty money and make it appear clean. This requires the services of a money launderer, and Ms. Jakobovits provided that function to a local illegal Internet gambling operation,” said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon.
“The National Association of Realtors has a stringent code of ethics, and using one’s professional capacity to launder money for a criminal enterprise clearly colors outside those lines,” Simon added.
Jakobovits was detained and questioned by the FBI and IRS-CID at Kahala Mall, and released pending further investigation, Simon said. In a deal with prosecutors, court records show she pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering on May 5, 2014.
In return for her plea, the prosecution agreed not to charge her husband, Chet Dal Santo, with Financial Institution Fraud involving the purchase of the Honolulu property for Yamada in 2007, court records show.
Jakobovits faced 20 years in federal prison for the money laundering charge. However, on Sept. 2, U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway sentenced her to 20 days in prison, two years of supervised release, a $10,000 fine and forfeiture of $100,000 involved in the illegal deal.
Jakobovits, originally from Monthreal Canada, obtained her real estate license in Hawaii in 1972, and brokers license in 1975. She spent the next four decades in real estate, running her own company, Barefoot Realty, and working at Prudential Locations and East Oahu Realty.
Active in the East Oahu community, she served as president of the Hawaii Kai Rotary Club and on the Honolulu’s Aina Haina Neighborhood Board. Her husband was the past district governor at Rotary District 5000.
In 2007, Jakobovits told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin she’d lost a $400,000 investment after she got “caught up in the irrational exuberance of the stock market the year prior and started placing big bets on high-tech companies in her 401k account.” The loss would postpone her retirement plans, she said.
“I got attracted by the bubble and the bubble burst. I was hoping to wind down next year, but there’s no chance of it now. I’m tired. I am depressed,” she told the Star-Bulletin.
In U.S. District Court on Sept. 2, 2014, Jakobovits apologized to the judge for her “lapse” in judgment that led to the money laundering conviction.
“We heard a lot in court today about what a great realtor and pillar in the community the defendant was. Why she would disgrace her profession by becoming a money launderer remains a mystery,” Simon said.