(photo credit: SHAUL GOLAN/GPO)
Ending a years-long saga, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Oded Mudrik on Tuesday sentenced Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto to a year in prison on a reduced bribery conviction as part of a plea bargain with the state.
The decision, which also carried a NIS 1 milllion fine, was a blow to Pinto, who had fought all-out for community service and no jail time.
Pinto’s lawyer, Eyal Rozovsky, responded to the decision saying that he sees a ray of hope on appeal.
Rozovsky said he understood that the court had rejected his argument that the maximum one-year sentence on the plea deal could be reduced to reflect that the bribery crime was not the worst kind of bribery crime under the law.
However, he said that the court had recognized his argument as a serious argument of legal interpretation and he implied the Supreme Court might see it differently than Mudrik.
The state responded that “the court took our position regarding the seriousness of the crime.”
It added that the prison sentence showed that “even powerful people with connections still get justice for their deeds.”
Asked if the plea deal was worth it, with some having criticized the deal as giving Pinto too short a jail sentence for his turning state’s witness against former Lahav 443 police anti-corruption unit head Asst.-Ch. Menashe Arbiv, the state said going after Arbiv was important and “represented the public’s interest.”
Rozovsky said on May 3 that Pinto should only get six months’ community service, because he was a state’s witness who made possible an important criminal prosecution against Arbiv and that other state’s witnesses got off with no jail time.
He had also told the court that it probably had never seen a man who donated so much time and money to the downtrodden – to which the court replied that Rozovsky was right, since usually such people did not commit crimes.
The judge on Tuesday said Pinto could have gotten two to five years in prison without a deal, and that all of the millions of shekels he had given to the poor and good he had done was already built into limiting his sentence to one year in prison.
The court also echoed other arguments made by the state.
Mudrik cited the nature of Pinto’s crimes in trying to bribe high level law enforcement officers as extremely serious and striking at the heart of the rule of law.
Pinto’s lawyers immediately vowed to appeal and asked the court to suspend the imprisonment order for about six weeks to file the appeal.
The state objected, demanding that the delay be only 10 days.
Mudrik ordered the imprisonment suspended until 10 a.m. on June 28, as Rozovsky requested.
But he cautioned that Pinto could not leave the country and that part of his willingness to give Pinto more time was his belief that any chances of appeal in this case were “weak” in light of the sentence being within the parameters of the plea bargain.
The lawyers on both sides continued to be contentious on every point.
During sentencing arguments, the state’s lawyers and Pinto’s attorneys yelled at each other at times and fought over whether a telephone call had taken place or not.
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.
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.
But ultimately none of Pinto’s medical or family issues rose to a level of getting him out of prison, said Mudrik.
Among other things, the indictment charged Pinto with trying to bribe National Fraud Squad head Dep.- Ch. Ephraim 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 obstructing an investigation.