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Iced

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In an attempt to get himself a lighter sentence, the Colombian told federal authorities that he worked with a number of jewelry businesses in the diamond district to unload large amounts of cash. One of those businesses, he claimed, was Roman Jewelers. He agreed to wear a wire and go undercover to make deals on 47th Street. His meetings with Eduard and Roman Nektalov began in the summer of 2002 and lasted for months.

Though Roman Jewelers occupies an expensive piece of 47th Street real estate葉he Nektalovs own the four-story building and lease some of the space to several other jewelry businesses葉he store has a surprisingly tired, depressing feel. Tax records show that Roman Jewelers grossed over $2 million last year, certainly a respectable figure, but less than you’d imagine might be needed to support a large multigenerational family, a Bentley, and a big, elaborate, recently built redbrick house in Forest Hills.

Though the cops say 47th Street is relatively crime-free葉he street purportedly has a higher concentration of gun permits than any other single block in the city葉he jewelry business, with its handshake deals and insular culture, is well suited to white-collar crimes like money laundering and fraud. In the past few months, for example, three diamond merchants were charged with laundering $1.5 million of South American drug money. The merchants allegedly took cash from dealers and then wrote checks in amounts ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. According to the indictment, the jewelers took a 6 percent fee and tried to bury the transactions by creating false sales invoices.

Nearly everyone busted in Operation Meltdown pleaded guilty and made a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office. Except Eduard and Roman Nektalov and one other defendant. The Nektalov trial had been scheduled to start in July, several weeks after Eduard was murdered. Charged with five counts of money laundering, and selling nearly $170,000 in gold and diamonds to undercover agents, father and son steadfastly insisted they were innocent. 的’m a simple salesman. I buy and I sell. I don’t ask questions. I don’t know anything about Colombians or the Mafia or any of this, Roman repeatedly told his friends.

When the Nektalovs were arrested, the community almost reflexively closed ranks around them. The Bukharans’ view of the world is shaped by their Soviet experience. They can be deeply suspicious of outsiders, particularly government authorities and the police. 釘ack in the Soviet Union, people were arrested all the time for things they didn’t do, says Rabbi Yitzhak Yehoshua, one of the key Bukharan religious leaders in Queens. 笛ust because you are accused of something doesn’t always mean you did it.

Eduard Nektalov came to the United States when he was 16, and quickly became one of the community’s leaders. He was vice-president of the Bukharan Jewish Congress, where he was instrumental in helping the fledgling organization raise $1 million in an early fund drive. And the Nektalov family勇duard; his brother, Leon; and their father擁s widely admired for its generosity within the Bukharan community, from its synagogue donations to its willingness to help more recent arrivals.

鄭ll this Mafia talk, all this talk about crime, says a Bukharan leader. 摘dik was guilty of nothing! This murder is not a problem with the Nektalovs.

摘duard was a real loss for the community, says Aron Aronov, an energetic 66-year-old with bushy white eyebrows who is the unofficial mayor of little Bukhara. Aronov, who speaks ten languages and worked as a translator in Uzbekistan, is also the founder, director, and curator of the Bukharan Museum, which is a block from the intersection of Queens and Woodhaven boulevards.

Occupying much of the top floor of a new yeshiva, the museum is filled with a quirky but growing collection of cultural artifacts: old photographs of sturdy-looking Bukharan men and women in their native Central Asian dress; beautiful handwoven carpets; flowing silk robes; handwritten Jewish prayer books used by Bukharans, who were denied printed texts by the Soviets; and remarkable pieces like a 400-year-old deerskin Torah.

溺y friends go to Bahamas to relax, says Aronov, who knocked down the garage in the back of his Rego Park home to re-create a traditional courtyard like the one he had in Tashkent. He built a wooden platform where he and friends sit on pillows and drink tea, planted grapes and an apricot tree, and put in a grill to cook lamb. 釘ut for my vacation, I go to Uzbekistan to look for things for my museum. I will not allow a 2,000-year-old culture to just vanish.

Aronov is nearly as protective of the Nektalov family, an allegiance that seems to be born mostly out of concern for the reputation of the Bukharan community as a whole. 摘dik was well liked, and he was devoted to his people and his family, Aronov says over lunch one afternoon in a Bukharan restaurant on 63rd Drive.

While eating the traditional meal of pilav (a rice-based stew with carrots and lamb), Aronov enthusiastically explained every ritual庸rom hand washing to how and when the tea is poured to which utensil is used for which dish. He insisted on giving me the short course in Bukharan culture before he would answer any questions. 摘dik’s name alone was enough to raise money, Aronov says, using Eduard’s nickname. 的f he gave, others gave. You will find people critical of his father, but I guarantee you will not find anyone who will say something negative about Edik.

After the shooting, frustrated detectives found this out firsthand. Nektalov’s family and friends offered little real help. 鏑et’s put it this way, Lieutenant T. J. Moroney, commander of the Midtown North Detective Squad, says diplomatically, 鍍he family has been somewhat less than forthcoming.

One of the family’s theories involves acrimony over a ten-year-old real-estate deal. Roman has even claimed to friends that perhaps it was a bias crime. Outside the circle, however, there’s near unanimity as to what probably happened. 典he Colombians or even some Russian he’d done business with may have believed that when the moment of truth arrived葉he trial揺e would fold and make a deal, says one law-enforcement source.

Theories, however, are still all investigators have, even though dozens of uniforms, detectives from every precinct in Manhattan, police dogs, and guys from Emergency Services were at the scene of the murder within minutes of the shooting. There were also 30 eyewitnesses ready to give statements. (Also at the scene, weirdly, were the actresses Candice Bergen and Lorraine Bracco, who turned up as part of their participation in the NYPD’s annual commander-for-a-day program.)


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