Rabbi Pinto Endures Rocky Start to Sentencing Hearing for Bribery

After the plea deal, prosecutors are seeking a year in prison for bribery of a top police official.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto at the Tel Aviv District Court, April 28, 2015.
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto at the Tel Aviv District Court, April 28, 2015. Credit: Shaul Golan
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

The sentencing phase of Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto’s trial has begun arduously for the defense, after Pinto pleaded guilty earlier this month to bribing a senior police official.

On Tuesday, Judge Oded Mudrik rejected a request from Pinto’s lawyers to introduce testimony that the official, Brig. Gen. Ephraim Bracha, gave to the police. The attorneys at the Tel Aviv District Court said this evidence would provide a more complex picture of the relationship between the two men.

But the prosecutors said the testimony would only provide a partial picture and in any case would violate the plea deal.

The sentencing phase will continue into next week; the prosecution seeks up to a year in prison for Pinto, not just probation or community service.

On Tuesday the tension was high — the prosecutors objected to every attempt by the defense to present documents, legal opinions or financial statements of nonprofit groups linked to Pinto.

At one point, Mudrik even needled the lawyers. “I’d think you wouldn’t take such a risk and present me false documents, which can be checked,” he said.

One legal opinion was signed by a former American; it discusses the implications of a Pinto prison term for members of his family. The severity of the sentence will revolve around three main issues: Pinto’s health and that of his family, his charity work and contributions, and his help in an investigation against Bracha.

Two weeks ago Pinto pleaded guilty, one day after returning to Israel. The rabbi is based in New York but also does work out of Ashdod.

He was convicted of bribery, offering bribes and obstructing justice. He also agreed to provide evidence that he bribed an even more senior police official, Maj. Gen Menashe Arviv, the former head of Lahav 433, the police unit also known as Israel’s FBI.

On Tuesday, dozens of Pinto’s followers filled the courtroom, and a long list of character witnesses testified, including members of charity groups. A number of people noted how Pinto had helped them over the years, and journalist Shalom Yerushalmi discussed what he called Pinto’s liberal views.

But despite what the court had been told at the previous session, author Elie Wiesel, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, did not testify. Pinto’s lawyers had said Wiesel might testify by video.

When Pinto arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport two weeks ago, he complained of chest pains and underwent a heart catheterization at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital.

After Pinto’s conviction, the court ordered him to remain in the country. The defense requested permission for Pinto to leave Israel after the sentencing hearing for surgery abroad, but no ruling has been made.

Pinto was indicted in September for allegedly giving 400,000 shekels ($103,000) in bribes to Bracha, who now heads the police’s fraud unit. Pinto was also charged with attempted bribery involving a similar sum, and with obstruction of justice.

The indictment followed an earlier plea bargain in which the rabbi agreed to serve as a state’s witness against Arviv, the retired head of Lahav 433.

According to the indictments, Pinto and his wife Dvora feared they would be questioned about the practices of Hazon Yeshaya, a nonprofit group run by a Pinto associate, Abraham Israel. In turn, Israel is said to have asked for Pinto’s support in the investigation; shortly thereafter, $1.2 million was allegedly transferred to Dvora Pinto’s bank account.

Pinto is said to have subsequently offered bribes to Bracha, whom he has known since 2007. Bracha had regularly attended events organized by Pinto, who is said to have tried to get Bracha to provide information about the investigation against Israel and himself.

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