(photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
Closing out the sentencing arguments which will determine whether Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto goes to prison on a reduced bribery conviction as part of a plea bargain, Pinto told the court, “I apologize and accept the judgment of the state.”
Most of Pinto’s statement was made behind closed doors, but the News1 website reported that one comment from Pinto, with nothing left now to the saga other than for Tel Aviv District Court Judge Oded Mudrik to pronounce Pinto’s sentence on May 12.
Earlier in the hearing, the state argued that Pinto should receive 12 months in prison, the maximum it could request as part of his plea deal, and in favor of that sentence noted that, absent a plea bargain, Pinto could have served several years in prison for bribery and obstruction of justice.
The state echoed earlier arguments that Pinto should not even have been allowed a plea bargain, that the nature of his crimes in trying to bribe high level law enforcement officers was extremely serious and struck at the heart of the state’s rule of law.
Pinto’s lawyer Eyal Rozovsky said that he should get only six months community service because he is a state’s witness who made possible a huge criminal case against former Lahav 433 commander Menashe Arbiv and that other state’s witnesses got off with no jail time.
He also told the court that it probably had never seen a man who had donated so much time and money to the downtrodden as Pinto had – to which the court replied that Rozovsky was right since usually such people do not commit crimes.
The highly contentious sentencing arguments started last week, with the state’s lawyers and Pinto attorneys yelling at one another at times and fighting over whether a telephone call had taken place or not.
Although Pinto had already turned state’s witness against Arbiv and confessed to bribery, the drama was expected: Not only had the plea bargain left his punishment undecided, but Pinto had vehemently resisted having to return to Israel from the US for the ongoing court hearings.
The lawyers fought over whether Pinto could introduce new medical evidence and new experts to testify about his health and psychiatric conditions – tactics often used to argue that a person is unfit for prison.
State lawyers also objected to new documentary evidence of charitable contributions the defendant had made to associations that assist the poor, the elderly and children’s institutions, saying that the prosecution had not received the documents to review before the hearing.
Mudrik tried to calm and balance the sides, which have built up much bad blood over the issue of Pinto having to come to Israel for the hearings despite having claimed he was physically unfit to travel.
Among other things, the indictment charged Pinto with trying to bribe National Fraud Squad head Bracha with $200,000 to get information from him about a criminal investigation into the Hazon Yeshaya foundation Pinto was running. Bracha reported Pinto’s actions to his superiors, then continued to gather evidence on the rabbi, the indictment said.
The rabbi was also charged with obstruction during an investigation.
Pinto, the founder of the Shuva Israel Yeshiva, is well known in Israel and the US.
He is also a descendant of two Sephardi rabbinical dynasties, Pinto and Abuhatzeira. Forbes previously listed him as the seventh-richest rabbi in Israel.