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Press Release

Former L.A. Resident Sentenced to More Than 6 Years in Prison for Running Cons Targeting Members of Orthodox Jewish Community

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

LOS ANGELES – A former resident of the Fairfax District of Los Angeles was sentenced today to 80 months in federal prison for defrauding investors, primarily members of the Orthodox Jewish community, by getting them to invest $25 million in his security camera business and his purported real estate ventures in Israel, while actually using their money for his own expenses.

Yossi Engel, 36, who moved to Israel in March 2021 but temporarily returned to the Los Angeles area in February 2023, was sentenced by United States District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong, who also ordered him to pay $11,758,030 in restitution.

Engel pleaded guilty on May 12 to one count of wire fraud. He has been in federal custody since his arrest on March 8 at Los Angeles International Airport as he was attempting to leave the United States.

Engel orchestrated a scheme in which he made false representations and used forged documents to induce victims to make investments in and provide loans for iWitness Tech Inc., a Hancock Park-based security camera company and for properties Engel falsely claimed to own and be developing in Israel.

From September 2018 to January 2021, Engel used his community relationships to defraud victims, who primarily came from the Orthodox Jewish communities in the Los Angeles and New York metropolitan areas. Engel claimed to need money in the form of short-term loans with high rates of return for iWitness’ business operations, namely the purported purchase and installation of security cameras for its customers.

Engel offered short-term investments and loans in iWitness that ranged from $15,000 to $1.3 million. The investments and loans were for two weeks to six months and would purportedly provide investors with 10% to 60% annualized interest. Victims were duped, in part, by being shown copies of false and fraudulent invoices of work iWitness purportedly did with other companies.

Engel told victims that iWitness was a large business with many clients, but in fact it did not have as much business as he claimed, and work was so slack that at times iWitness employees sat around waiting for work while Engel slept on a couch.

In another part of the scheme, Engel also falsely claimed to own and be developing real estate in Israel, telling victims that he needed money for redevelopment work, and falsely promising he would sell the properties and share the profits with investors. Engel showed victims a video depicting himself socializing with the mayor of Bnei Brak, Israel, and claimed to have met with the mayor concerning Engel’s purported real estate deals in the city. But Engel did not have a close relationship with the mayor, and he did not discuss with the mayor these real estate ventures in the city.

Engel used fraudulent Israel land documents to dupe victims into thinking he owned these properties. Through these fake documents and his own trusted position in the Orthodox Jewish community, Engel lulled existing victims and encouraged new victims to send him money.

Engel lied to investors that he needed private investments for both iWitness and the Israeli real estate projects because he was from Israel and did not have sufficient credit in the United States to obtain the lower interest rates available through U.S. banks.

But Engel did not use the victims’ money as promised, and instead used it for his personal expenses – including trips via private jets and casino visits – and to make Ponzi payments to investors to perpetuate the scheme.

Once the scheme fell apart in early 2021, Engel fled the United States for Israel.

“The consequences of [Engel’s] dishonesty are not only financial but his victims endured an emotional cost,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “[Engel’s] greed hurt reputations and broke relationships in the communities he solicited money.”

In January 2023, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission sued Engel, alleging he used his ties in the Orthodox Jewish community to perpetuate a multimillion-dollar affinity fraud.

The FBI investigated this matter.

Assistant United States Attorney Steven M. Arkow of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.


Ciaran McEvoy
Public Information Officer
(213) 894-4465

Updated December 15, 2023

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 23-284