WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. The hedge-fund swindler who faked his suicide rather than report for his 20-year prison term tried to plead guilty Wednesday for going on the lam, but a federal magistrate wouldn't let him.
Samuel Israel III's guilty plea was likely to be accepted eventually, possibly later Wednesday, and it will mean as much as 10 more years added to the sentence he received for fleecing investors of nearly half a billion dollars.
Israel, 49, said "Guilty" Wednesday morning when Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith asked him how he pleaded to a charge of failure to surrender. But the magistrate said, "It has to be 'Not guilty' at this point," apparently because some federal judges prefer not to have the magistrate judge accept guilty pleas.
The case was then assigned to Judge Kenneth Karas, and Smith said, "Judge Karas is taking his own guilty pleas at this time." An afternoon session with Karas was then scheduled.
On June 9, the day he was supposed to report to a federal prison hospital in Ayer, Mass., Israel left his SUV on a bridge north of New York City with the words "Suicide is Painless" etched into the dust on the hood.
He then took off in an RV and apparently spent the next few weeks at a Massachusetts campground while police and federal agents, not fooled by the fake suicide, searched for him. While he was missing, his girlfriend, Debra Ryan, was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting his failure to surrender. Her case is pending.
On July 2, Israel drove up to a police station in Southwick, Mass., on a motor scooter and surrendered. He was returned to Manhattan, and the next day a furious judge ordered him to forfeit his $500,000 bail.
Israel said he had tried to commit suicide for real after becoming a fugitive but it didn't work "and I realized God didn't want me to do that and I turned myself in."