(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Tel Aviv District Court on Monday significantly harshened former Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani’s sentence on breach of public trust and fraud from six months community service to eighth months in prison on a state appeal.
The decision follows a September 2014 decision by Tel Aviv Magistrate Court Judge Beni Sagi in which he gave Lahiani a surprisingly light sentence of no jail time and a mere six months of community service.
Sagi already had terminated Lahiani’s chance to return to his mayoral office (from which he has been temporarily suspended) and may have ended Lahiani’s political career by suspending him from any political office for seven years.
The prosecution appeal came because Lahiani received no jail time. The seven-year suspension comes automatically from the court’s finding that Lahiani’s acts constituted moral turpitude, an unusual finding to make without corresponding jail time. Lahiani also was fined NIS 250,000 by the court.
In a sudden turn, after years of claiming he would fight until the end, Lahiani had cut a plea bargain with the state last May, leading the court to convict him. The price the state paid for Lahiani throwing in the towel was striking the more serious bribery offenses, which would have carried a longer jail sentence.
Originally, the lower court rejected the prosecution’s request that Lahiani, 48, serve one-year of prison time on several grounds. Lahiani himself had asked for community service and no prison time while neither endorsing nor opposing the state’s request to impose a finding of moral turpitude.
The court noted that by accepting the plea bargain and avoiding a trial, Lahiani had accepted responsibility and saved time for the judicial system.
It also noted that he had been arrested at the start of the case and that he was paying a serious price by losing his office as mayor and being banned from politics for seven years.
The prosecution’s tactic appeared to reflect the need to give a nod to Lahiani’s popularity as the mayor who revitalized Bat Yam, while holding him accountable for the alleged corruption.
The mayor was arraigned in October 2013 on charges of taking around NIS 900,000 in bribes in exchange for advancing the interests of local businessmen in Bat Yam and asking nine municipal employees to take bank loans and transfer the money to him, starting in 2005, the prosecution said.
Lahiani was also accused of a conflict of interest for holding partial ownership in a local newspaper in which the Bat Yam Municipality bought advertising space.
Until the plea bargain, Lahiani had said he did not know about the illegalities, and that others, such as his brother Avi, had acted independently, with prosecutor Sharon Cahana saying the opposite was true.
She said Avi Lahiani acted in tandem with the mayor at virtually all times, and that to the extent that he acted on his own, it was at the mayor’s direction and only to try to cover his own tracks.
Cahana said the case against Shlomo Lahiani included not only documentary evidence but also substantial evidence from wiretapped telephone conversations.
After being reelected mayor of Bat Yam in October 2013 despite having been indicted and previously fired by the High Court of Justice, Lahiani was temporarily suspended by a committee set up to suspend certain mayors under indictment for serious corruption charges.
After his arraignment, Lahiani said this is “my first time in court” and “I’m sure it will end well.”
Lahiani’s plea bargain and ban from public office indicate, however, he eventually reached a more sober evaluation of his prospects.