Police arrested 15 men on Monday accused of involvement in organized crime, including the head of a major crime family in central Israel and a suspected mob boss from Eilat.
The most significant arrest of the 15 was Ophir Lavi, who along with his brother Amos heads the Lavi crime family based in Rehovot.
The family is believed to be behind a series of murders in and around the city over the past couple years. Police arrested, and later released, Ophir and Amos themselves in connection to a murder that was carried out in broad daylight on Rehovot’s main street last April.
The Lavi family is closely allied with Shalom Domrani’s Ashkelon-based organization, and has helped spread his crime family further into central Israel.
The other top suspect arrested was Ya’acov Yishayev, who police believe runs a powerful organized crime gang in Eilat that is allied with the Lavis’ group.
According to police, Yishayev, once a major criminal in the Hadera area, moved to Eilat two years ago after the arrest of then-Eilat crime boss Ilan Ben-Sheetrit and seven of his associates on organized crime charges. Taking advantage of the power vacuum, Yishayev moved to the city with his associates and worked to build up a network, with operations allegedly including extorting local business owners and selling drugs.
The seeds of Yishayev and Ophir Lavi’s alleged criminal cooperation were planted years earlier, when they were among five co-defendants convicted in 2007 of plotting to murder Hadera criminal Hani Gerbi. The men were convicted of acquiring 15 explosive bricks that were stolen from IDF weapons depots, and of making five car bombs with the bricks intended for use against Gerbi. Lavi and Yishayev then became close during their time together in the penitentiary, solidifying their alliance.
According to Lachish subdistrict police, the Lavi brothers and Yishayev have collaborated with one another, running a criminal network that ran from Eilat to Rehovot and other cities across central and southern Israel.
On Tuesday, following six months of undercover work, hundreds of officers fanned out and arrested the suspects in Eilat, Ashkelon, Rehovot, Tel Aviv and Hadera. The suspects face charges including membership in an organized crime network, money laundering, extortion and conspiracy to commit a crime.
In addition to the arrests, police and Tax Authority investigators seized several vehicles and a large amount of cash.
Police said the investigation did not, for the time being, include any charges of plotting murders or building explosive devices. They would not say whether or not the case included any complainants or state’s witnesses who had agreed to testify.
Last month, central district detectives announced the arrest of three men who allegedly attempted to place a bomb on a car belonging to the Lavi brothers. The three men were allegedly linked to the crime organization run by Benny Shlomo of Moshav Haletz, a former Domrani associate who formed his own gang and has been feuding with his one-time boss.
The Shlomo-Domrani feud is believed to be the reason for a series of high-profile car bombs in Ashkelon last year, and has had ripple effects in central Israel as well as the south.