A man going by the name of Eli Avidan has been using his Jewish and Israeli background to gain trust with passers-by and defraud them of varying sums of money, according to alleged victims’ accounts.
According to an investigation by Kol HaBirah, Avidan has allegedly struck at multiple locations in the Greater Washington and Baltimore areas over the past six years. These include DC Metro stations Union Station and Farragut North, as well as at the Whole Foods Market on I Street; and encounters were also reported at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Subjects described Avidan as having a short, stocky build and graying, buzz-cut hair. His accent, as well as an expired green card he presented to alleged victims on several occasions, suggest that he is Israeli. According to this photo ID, he is 55 years old.
Not Tzedakah, But Fraud
According to alleged victims’ accounts, Avidan followed a similar course of action in each encounter. He routinely targeted people he suspected to be Jewish while their minds were focused on something else — taking the train, for instance, or going about their weekly food shopping. After gaining their trust and insisting he was not looking for tzedakah (charity), Avidan would promise to pay back his targets and provide them with his seemingly legitimate contact information. The phone numbers provided to his alleged victims have all been disconnected, and at this time there has been no response to any messages sent to his email account.
Jeremy Schnittman, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, encountered Avidan at BWI in 2016, when Avidan approached with the pitch that he needed money so he could take the train to New York before Shabbat.
“I wanted to show my son good chinuch [education], to do an act of tzedakah,” said Schnittman. “The proper word is chesed [good deed] really, since I expected him to pay me back.” It was Avidan who insisted he would not take tzedakah; he showed Schnittman his green card and provided him with a Boston address, an email address, and a phone number, promising to pay the money back once he arrived in New York. Schnittman said he probably trusted Avidan more because he said he was Israeli.
The two exchanged brief text messages before departing, but the phone number Avidan gave Schnittman was later disconnected, and he never heard from Avidan again.
Daniel, who asked that his last name not be used, gave Avidan about $150 after being approached by him outside Whole Foods while he was grocery shopping with his family. “He was adamant that it wasn’t tzedakah and that he was going to pay me back,” he said. Daniel later blamed his preoccupation with the task at hand as the reason he fell for what in retrospect was likely a scam.
While the phone number Avidan provided was in service at the time of the encounter, it was disconnected as early as that same night, Daniel said. When attempting to file a report with Metropolitan Police, he was told he needed to be physically present in DC to make his complaint, which led him to drop the issue, since he lives in Maryland.
Tevi Troy, another Silver Spring resident, was targeted by Avidan on two different occasions; first at Union Station in 2012, and again at BWI about a year later. During the first encounter, Avidan again said he needed the money to travel, this time to Boston.
“I gave him $20, and as I was pulling out my wallet he asked if I could give him $20 more,” said Troy. “I just told him not to push it.” Avidan insisted he would pay him back, so Troy gave him his business card.
According to the DC Code of Conduct, each of these incidents, if reported, would be classified as misdemeanors, likely punishable by up to 90 days in prison, a $500 dollar fine, and potential community service. The criminal offenses associated with Avidan’s actions could be aggravated depending on the circumstances and scale of his scheme.
However, Metropolitan Police and BWI law enforcement said they were unaware of these incidents, and have no records on Avidan or a person matching his description.
Research into the contact information provided by Avidan over the years revealed additional accounts of fraud following a similar pattern, but no charges were reportedly filed by any of the alleged victims.
When approached by Avidan again a year after their first encounter, this time at BWI, Troy told Avidan he recognized him from their previous interaction. Avidan quickly walked away, said Troy.
Disappearing, for the time being.
By Anis Modi