State Wants Supreme Court to Impose Stiffer Sentence on Upper Nazareth Mayor

Shimon Gapso was convicted by a lower court on bribery charges, but escaped imprisonment and returned to his job.

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Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso in court: Indicted but reelected. (May 28, 2015)Credit: Rami Shlush

The state Tuesday appealed to the Supreme Court against the leniency of the sentence imposed on Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso.

Gapso was convicted in February of taking a bribe, albeit in an unusual form: He pressured a city councilman to resign by threatening that if he didn’t, the councilman’s ex-wife would be fired from her job in the municipality’s economic corporation. Two weeks ago, the Haifa District Court sentenced Gapso to six months of community service, a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of 20,000 shekels ($5,200).

Because the court ruled that Gapso’s crime did not involve moral turpitude, Gapso immediately resumed his job as mayor, from which he had been suspended for the previous 14 months, ever since the indictment was filed. His first move upon returning was to fire the acting mayor and the city manager.

In its appeal, the state argued that the district court erred by not sentencing Gapso to jail time, and also by ruling that his crime did not involve moral turpitude. Gapso’s actions severely violated the public’s trust and blatantly undermined the democratic process, the prosecutors wrote, and the district court itself said his actions were morally flawed. Yet by absolving him of moral turpitude, the court had essentially ruled that Gapso was morally fit to remain in office, the appeal said.

Gapso announced that in response to the prosecution’s appeal, he himself will appeal his conviction. “I’d hoped the process would end with the [lower court’s] verdict, but I’ll continue to fight for my innocence as needed,” he said.

Gapso is also currently standing trial in a second bribery case. That indictment was filed about a year ago, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein believes Gapso should be suspended as mayor until the end of this case as well.

Weinstein therefore asked the special committee in charge of suspending mayors to approve the suspension, and the panel is slated to discuss his request today.

State Comptroller Joseph Shapira also urged the panel to suspend Gapso, arguing that the steps he has taken since resuming office appear to violate the principles of proper administration.