You have to give him credit for a novel — if unsuccessful — defence.
Mark Zirkind isn’t your regular sort of criminal — he’s an ultra Orthodox Jew of the Hasidic Lubavitch movement, someone you’d expect to see in a yeshiva, and not under arrest after police seized $1,136,555 from his rental car.
On Feb. 23, 2014, Zirkind flew from Montreal to Toronto on a one-way ticket and rented a car. Police watched him meet up with a drug trafficking suspect they had under surveillance in the Yorkdale mall parking lot and receive a red-and-white duffle bag.
Later that night, as Zirkind was travelling east along Hwy. 401 back toward Montreal, he was stopped by the OPP for speeding. Following a search of his car, he was arrested for possession of property obtained by crime.
Police found over $1 million in cash in a number of bags, including $250,170 in the red-and-white duffle. The bags, the money, and several surfaces in the car, including the glove compartment, driver’s control surfaces, back seat and trunk, tested positive for cocaine.
According to the agreed statement of facts, the money in the Yorkdale duffle bag did come from cocaine trafficking. But Zirkind insisted he didn’t know at the time that he was transporting proceeds of crime.
Here’s where the novel defence comes in: He claimed he was a courier of “Shoah Gelt” — Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust and gelt is the Yiddish term for money. At his trial, Zirkind testified that he’d been approached by a stranger named “Avrum Reish” to move money to safekeeping in Montreal for Jews in Europe or Asia worried about a second Holocaust.
He told the court he was honoured to do so, “describing the task as a great ‘mitzvah’ or commandment from God.”
Zirkind testified that he drove the money from Toronto to Montreal on three or four prior occasions and never flew because he feared the cash would be discovered or lost. He said the people who handed over the money didn’t appear to be Jewish while those who received it in Montreal seemed to be orthodox Jews.
There were a number of reasons to be skeptical about his fanciful story.
The agreed statement of facts said Zirkind’s average declared annual income was $34,912. But between 2009 and February 2014, he’d made over $2 million in payments to his various credit cards.
Under cross-examination, Zirkind admitted he’d never asked how the money he was transporting came into Canada or where it ended up. He also claimed not to have a way of contacting Avrum and hadn’t heard from him since his arrest.
Superior Court Justice Todd Ducharme didn’t believe a word of it.