Tel Aviv Court Hands 'Israeli Godfather' 20-year Sentence

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Eitan Haya protested his innocence as he entered the courtroom on Tuesday.
Eitan Haya protested his innocence as he entered the courtroom on Tuesday.Credit: Moti Milrod

Eitan Haya, known as the head of the Israeli mafia in New York, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and a 1.5-million-shekel fine Thursday. Judge Zvi Gurfinkel of the Tel Aviv District Court handed down the sentence under heavy security to avoid any unnecessary risks, and the judge’s home in Kiryat Ono has also been placed under protection. This was Gurfinkel’s last case before retirement.

Haya was convicted in December of 11 crimes including criminal conspiracy, extortion and money laundering. He was acquitted of threatening and extorting two government witnesses in the case, and the judge criticized law enforcement authorities for their actions relating to those charges.

Haya was convicted, along with others who worked for him, of threatening, extorting and money laundering from people who he loaned money to. For example, Haya was convicted of having grenades thrown at the borrowers’ homes and families in order to collect their debts.

He was also convicted of bringing 15 million shekels in cash into Israel when he returned from the United States in 2004 and not reporting the funds, as well as providing false information about the use of the money.

Gurfinkel described a scene from the book “The Godfather” in his verdict, in which the father of a woman who was raped and the two rapists went free in court turns to Don Corleone, the Godfather, and asks him to break their arms and legs. He is then indebted to the Godfather for the rest of his life. “This scene describes the damage to the rule of law, woe to us if we must turn to making our own justice,” wrote the judge.

The victims’ fear to complain to police is a result of the doubt that the criminal would be sentenced to a lengthy period in prison, said Gurfinkel. Our job is to sent a tough message that the criminals will be sent to prison for a long time, and this will provide a message to the victims that they do not need to fear to go to the police because the criminal will be kept away from society for a long time, he added.

“The role of the court is to make the crime of extortion into one that is not worthwhile, and therefore necessitates painful and harsh punishment,” wrote the judge.

In his verdict in December, the judge said Haya had a reputation that cast fear on others, and this fear is the thread that runs through the testimony of all the witnesses who were threatened and extorted.

“In a number of cases the victims of the crime avoided cooperating with police while expressing a real and justified fear for their lives. More than once they testified that after they learned of Haya’s actions in the past they were afraid.”

Haya had been under police scrutiny for years. In the past he operated with Amir Mulner’s crime family, but in recent years was suspected of working independently. He was convicted of the murder of Amnon Hadad when still a minor, and while in prison was convicted of other crimes, including conspiracy to kidnap and harm someone, as well as threats and extortion. He left Israel in 1979 after completing his sentence.

In the 1980s Haya was part of the Israeli crime gangs in New York, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in the U.S. for drug and other offenses, and having a part in a murder. Since his return to Israel in 2004 he has lived in Tel Aviv.

Haya’s lawyer, Mordechai Katz, said he would appeal the conviction. “In our opinion the court did not reach the proper conclusions, and we are not concerned with the sentence because in our view the verdict is incorrect.”

Katz said no one involved in the case was harmed in any way and no money was paid as a result of the extortion, and under these circumstances the verdict is excessive.

“The honorable judge does not hide that a new level of punishment must be set. These determinations show that he set a level relative to the reputation of the defendant, and this reputation played a decisive role throughout the trial and the verdict,” said the lawyer.

Haya has been demonized over the past 10 years since he returned to Israel, has not been accused of any serious crimes and has not served time in prison, said Katz.

The Tel Aviv district prosecutor’s office said Haya has been involved in the criminal world for many years, and used his criminal reputation to cast fear on his victims, using extortion and violence conducted on his behalf by others. The prosecution called the sentence an appropriate deterrence for others that would protect the public.

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