Suspended Upper Nazareth Mayor Shimon Gapso was sentenced Sunday in Haifa District Court to six months’ imprisonment converted to community service and fined 20,000 shekels (nearly $5,000) for demanding a bribe.
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Judge Oded Gershon did not, however, declare Gapso’s crime to be one of moral turpitude, which would have barred him from public office for seven years. Gapso will perform his public service at a rehabilitation center in Migdal Ha’emek.
Gapso and his deputy, Adi Berko, were convicted in February of trying to force City Councilor Semion Baron to join the municipal coalition in 2008 by threatening to fire his ex-wife, Dora Bern, from her municipal position if he did not. When he refused, Bern was summoned to a pre-dismissal hearing; Baron then agreed to join the coalition, but at that point was told Bern would only be spared if he quit the city council. When he refused, Bern was dismissed. The charge viewed the demand that Baron resign as tantamount to demanding a bribe.
Although the judge convicted Gapso, he was highly critical of the indictment, saying that after hearing the evidence, many aspects of the charge sheet proved to be incorrect. Gershon also blasted the prosecution for taking over four years to file the charges.
The prosecution had asked the court to send Gapso to jail for eight to 24 months. In response to the sentence, prosecutor Raz Walther said, “The court made clear that the violation was serious. It also established that moral turpitude is obvious in such a violation, but it avoided declaring moral turpitude under these specific circumstances.”
Gapso’s attorney, Pninit Yanai, said, “The important message conveyed by this overall ruling is the sharp and pointed criticism of the prosecution for continuing the proceedings through Gapso’s whole term, and the implicit criticism that under the specific circumstances of this case the prosecution decided in an unprecedented fashion to file charges against Gapso.”
Berko was sentenced to five months community service at Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, and fined 10,000 shekels.
When Gapso was charged in 2013, he was suspended from his mayoral post on order of the High Court of Justice, but was reelected shortly thereafter. He was suspended again in March 2014, and the suspension was periodically extended by a committee headed by retired Judge Moshe Gal. Since no moral turpitude was imposed on the sentence, it seems Gapso could return to the mayor’s chair.
However, there is another bribery case against Gapso being heard by Judge Diana Sela in Haifa District Court, and it is assumed the prosecution will ask that Gapso’s suspension be extended until that case is completed. Gapso is expected to object to his further suspension.
In the case before Sela, Gapso is accused of soliciting people to work for his election in 2008 with promises of municipal jobs if he became mayor. Regarding this case, Yanai said, “We will have a second hearing and I hope our arguments will be accepted and this saga will end [and] he will return to his mayoral seat from the moment the suspension is lifted.”
Last October, a more serious case against Gapso was dropped for lack of evidence. In that case, he had allegedly taken a bribe of 300,000 shekels from the manager of the local Ramle-Lod Market in exchange for easing of legal restrictions to benefit the market. The market’s manager, Yisrael Raviv, turned state’s witness, but evidence, including recordings, were produced that cast doubt on Raviv’s motives and strengthened Gapso’s version of events. As a result, the case was closed.
“I’m a law-abiding citizen,” Gapso said, as he left the courtroom Sunday. “I think that everyone knows that.” Asked if he will return to the mayor’s office, he said, “I haven’t a shadow of a doubt that I will return to the mayoralty of Upper Nazareth.”