Israeli consulate employee jailed in Columbia County

By: Kate Tillotson
By: Kate Tillotson

August 31, 2006

An Israeli consulate employee living and working in Atlanta is behind bars in Columbia County.

37-year old Yosef Ofri was arrested this morning. He works as a security officer with Atlanta's Israeli consulate-general. He's charged with sending sexually explicit photographs to a local, undercover officer online.

A grand jury accuses Ofri of 22 counts of pornography and exploitation--some serious charges for a visitor to our country.

In this online world of words, it's tough to know who's who.

"Is this unusual for our area? Unfortunately not," said Columbia County's Capt. Steve Morris, reacting to the sheriff's office's recent arrest of Ofri.

"We're working every day trying to prevent this from occurring with our children."

It's why undercover operations like these are often launched. A police officer, posing as a young girl, says Ofri sent him twenty pictures, both explicit and sexual.

Just two months ago, a similar, successful sting was set up at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. It led to the arrest of David Riordan of Lincoln County.

So while investigators continue casting computer bait, I logged on to a chat room called Generation X.

I asked one teenager, "How can you really chat with someone if you can't trust they are who they say they are?"

He responded, "Trust? I don't trust people on this anyway."

Minutes later, he admitted it can be dangerous, but wrote, "People are killed on the road all the time. We still cross the road and we still drive cars."

Capt. Morris fears that laid-back attitude could continue putting teens in harm's way.

"This is an ongoing, undercover operation and unfortunately this probably will not be the last arrest," he said.

From what we understand, Ofri was carrying an Israeli diplomatic passport at the time of his arrest. He was taken into custody without incident and transported to Columbia County.

Officials say his home was searched, but they won't tell us what was found.

We are told Ofri will appear before a judge within the next 72 hours.

News 12 contacted the US Department of State to find out how crimes involving employees of a consulate in the United States are handled.

They can be arrested and detained.

Investigators can enter their homes subject to ordinary procedures.

They can be issued a traffic citation.

They may not be subpoenaed as witness for official acts, but they can be in all other cases.

They may not be prosecuted for official acts, but they can be prosecuted in all other cases.

And a consulate employee's family has no immunity from US laws.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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