Was It Suicide? Or An Elaborate Plan to Avoid Prison?

Did a convicted hedge fund founder stage his suicide to avoid 20 years in jail?

ByABC News
June 10, 2008, 1:05 PM

June 10, 2008 — -- Was it a tragic suicide? Or an elaborate escape plan by a convicted criminal? Investigators examining the apparent suicide of a disgraced hedge fund trader are pursuing the possibility that he purchased a black market passport over the internet and staged a jump from a New York bridge to avoid a 20 year prison sentence slated to begin yesterday, ABC News has learned.

Sam Israel III failed to show up to prison yesterday. His SUV was later found at a bridge spanning the Hudson River near West Point but no body was found and no one saw him jump, officials said. "Suicide is painless," the theme song from the hit movie MASH was scrawled in dust on the GM Envoy's hood, officials confirmed, and a "rambling" note was found under the vehicle seat.

Israel a co-founder of the Bayou hedge fund was sentenced in April to 20 years in federal prison for defrauding investors of $400 million.

Yesterday the FBI entered the investigation initially begun by New York State Police when the vehicle was found. Sources speculate that if Israel had in fact jumped from the bridge near where the sport utility vehicle was found that his body would have very likely been recovered by now.

In April, Israel was ordered to forfeit $300 million after pleading guilty to defrauding investors in his now-bankrupt firm.

US District Judge Colleen McMahon said to Israel at his sentencing, "You were, in every meaning of the sense, a career criminal. You ruined lives. Financial fraud, white-collar crimes are every bit as heinous as every other type of crime and they will be punished severely."

Lawyers for Israel had sought leniency, noting he's had numerous back operations and is addicted to painkillers. The judge had no compassion in her voice when she said, "He suffered from these ailments while he did the crime. He can deal with them while he does the time."

State Police officials said nothing had been firmly established at this time, but a search for Israel or his body is under way.