Police crime scene south Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A gang of 10 young men used threatening text messages, surprise home visits,
irate phone calls to victims’ relatives and violence to run an extortion ring in
south Tel Aviv in recent years, it is alleged.
The methods were detailed
in an indictment presented by the Tel Aviv State Attorney’s Office on Wednesday.
It accuses the men of offenses including extortion by threat, extortion through
violence and conspiracy to commit a crime.
The gang typically charged
interest of as much as 24 percent on loans that were typically given to people
in the lowincome Hatikva neighborhood who found themselves in need of quick
The indictment details how when several borrowers were no able to
make the monthly interest payments, the threats and harassment began, quickly
worsening as the debts remained unpaid.
The suspects, Ya’acov Yom Tov,
31, Moshe Ashkenazi, 23, Roi Ashuli, 30, Yaniv Malka, 23, Igor Yunayev, 27, Ezra
Tzuraf, 26, Reuven Mattatov, 27, Avraham Yosofov, 24, Guy Ashuli, 24, and Elad
Cohen, 23, are all from Tel Aviv, Holon or Petah Tikva. All but one of them have
criminal records for violent offenses and/or drugs and property crimes. Yom Tov
served eight months for a weapons charge and is a chief suspect in a murder
Yom Tov’s name appears repeatedly in the indictment as a ringleader
of sorts, coordinating collection methods and calling debtors to threaten them
and their families.
The indictment is based on wiretaps and video of the
gang’s extortion methods, as well as testimony from a series of debtors, in
particular a woman named Sigi, whose sister “R.” borrowed a total of NIS 38,000
in four loans in 2011.
For more than a year, the indictment states,
various members of the gang called Sigi and R., threatening both of them that
they would “mess them up,” cursing them and their families, as well as sending
threatening SMS messages.
On a number of occasions members of the gang
appeared at the building Sigi lived in with her sister, her young son, and their
elderly parents, and yelled curses and threats at her and her family members,
according to the indictment.
On one occasion, Yom Tov and three other men
allegedly appeared at the family home and banged on the door until Sigi opened
it, then charged inside and began threatening the family; the sisters’ elderly
father passed out and had to be hospitalized.
Yom Tov also allegedly
called R.’s grandmother and told her that he was owed NIS 6,600 by her daughter
who gave him a bounced check. He threatened that if he didn’t get the money that
day, he would return with police and they would “repossess” the grandmother’s
belongings. The rattled grandmother scraped together NIS 2,600 that day, the
The gang was first brought to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s
Court on July 16. All 10 men were young, most were heavy-set, and they joked and
smiled for the handful of cameramen present.
Yom Tov was the first
brought in, and made an obscene gesture for the press before returning to his
seat in the dock.
They were met at the court by about a dozen supporters,
all of them large young men themselves, most of them wearing identical black
With the issuing of the indictment on Wednesday, the court
ordered the men held in custody until the end of the legal proceedings against
them, arguing that if released they might go after the witnesses who have agreed
to testify against them.