Mayors Under Investigation Meet Retired Policemen: A Love Story?

Four Israeli mayors facing police investigations or criminal charges have hired recently-retired police commanders as city managers; shrewd managing, or shrewd planning?

Over the past seven years, four high-ranking police officers have gone to work for Israeli mayors under criminal investigation shortly after retiring from the force, in some cases the same figures whose cases they had worked on.

Last year David Mantzur retired from the Israel Police and was hired as CEO of Rimonim, Ramat Hasharon Development Corporation, under Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger. Mantzur, who retired as head of Lahav 433, the force’s flagship crime-fighting division, was involved in some of the 10 police investigations against Rochberger. Rochberger was under investigation when Mantzur went to work for the city company; he has since been indicted on a number of corruption charges.

A few months ago Eran Zamir, a former comptroller of Ramat Hasharon, was summoned by police to testify in yet another Lahav investigation against Rochberger. Nervous laughter broke out in the room when Zamir teased the investigators, saying, “I’m glad some of you are still doing investigations. I thought you were all trying to get jobs heading [municipal] economic corporations.”

“It was clear to everyone how sad it was,” one of those present said later.

Meir Gilboa, a former head of the Israel Police serious crime unit who went on to advise then-State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on corruption, said Rochberger clearly hired Mantzur in order to clear his own name. “Rochberger could then say, ‘Look who works with me, the man responsible for enforcing the law.’ This doesn’t give a mayor immunity, but it surely gives him a significant edge over the ordinary citizen,” Gilboa said, adding, “The police will think twice if it knows the CEO or head of a municipal corporation is one of its own.”

Dov Lutzky, who was deputy Northern District commander when he retired from the force, became city manager of Upper Nazareth last year. Mayor Shimon Gapso, who appointed him, was recently forced to resign after he was charged with taking bribes.

City employees say Lutzky sometimes backed Gapso’s decisions even over the objections of professionals in city hall. For instance, he insisted on holding a city event in a banquet hall that had no business license and was being prosecuted, despite the opposition of the city’s treasurer and its legal advisor.

After the state comptroller issued a blistering report last year on the municipality’s improper conduct under Gapso, the head of the Interior Ministry’s local authorities division, Mordechai Cohen began investigating. He met first with Gapso and Lutzky, then with Upper Nazareth’s legal advisor, treasurer and comptroller.

“Cohen told us, ‘Three hours ago, the city manager, someone who was a senior police officer and also in the Israel Prison Service, came and said you’re interfering with the mayor’s agenda,’” one of those present at the meeting said, adding, “Cohen said that if Lutzky, who surely knows a thing or two about the law and proper administration, is saying this, what do we want? Because of Lutzky’s past, his actions are presumed to be clean.”

Even after Gapso’s indictment, Lutzky was quoted in Uvda, a local paper, as saying he felt “comfortable” working with Gapso and that his opinion of the mayor “didn’t change after the indictment was filed.”

Yitzhak Tzur, who ended his police career as the force’s chief education officer, was hired four years ago to serve as city manager of Hadera. At the time the mayor, Haim Avitan, who being investigated in connection to alleged political appointments. That case was eventually closed, but Avitan is now under investigation on a more serious charge – taking bribes.

Tzur not only became Avitan’s confidant, he has even used his police connections on the mayor’s behalf. Once, for instance, he sought to postpone a court hearing against the operator of the municipality’s cafeteria; he later told the court he did so at Avitan’s request.

Gilboa isn’t surprised. “The police’s general ethical level isn’t of the highest,” he said. “Some of these people have a flawed, even very flawed, ethical outlook.”

A fourth case is that of Yaakov Zigdon, whose last police post was commander of the Amakim District. Seven years ago, he himself was investigated on suspicion of improper ties with politicians, and though the case was closed, he resigned.

Immediately afterward, he was appointed city manager of Tiberias, whose mayor, Zohar Oved, was then under investigation for violating campaign finance laws. Oved was indicted in 2010, and Zigdon resigned three months later. “You can add one plus one on the calendar and see why he was brought to the municipality,” a city employee told Haaretz.

The Israel Police said in a statement that retired officers have the right to freedom of occupation. “In general, we’re pleased by the fact that retired senior police officers are found suitable for high-level public positions,” it said, adding that the people mayors choose to hire is not police business as long as the law is upheld.

The police also stressed in its response that the force “operates strictly on pertinent professional considerations, and any attempt to link these considerations with the employment of police retirees is forced and baseless.”

Nevertheless, it seems the force is aware that such cases harm its image and understands the concern that errant mayors could use police retirees as fig leaves for their crimes. In its response the police noted that a few years it promoted a bill heightening the restrictions to the employment of retired officers’ employment. The amendment, which took effect this year, bars former police officers from deriving benefit from any party they were involved in investigating for a period of three years after retiring.