Bat Yam Mayor Lahiani.
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
In a sudden turnaround, Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani cut a plea bargain with the state, leading the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to convict him on multiple charges of breach of public trust and fraud on Thursday morning.
The price the state paid for Lahiani throwing in the towel was dropping the more serious bribery offenses, which could have carried longer jail time.
Still, the prosecution is expected to ask for Lahiani, 48, to serve one year of prison time and to be disqualified from holding political office for seven years with a finding of moral turpitude.
He is expected to ask for community service and no prison time, while neither endorsing nor opposing the state’s request to impose a finding of moral turpitude.
Planned hearings for the other defendants in the case, including Lahiani’s brother Avi, have been postponed from May 12 until May 19 to give the sides time to reach plea bargains on those charges as well.
Less than two weeks ago, Lahiani’s bribery trial got under way with the prosecutor opening by saying, “A well-run city does not excuse corruption.”
The prosecution’s tactic appeared to reflect the need to give a nod to Lahiani’s popularity as the mayor who cleaned up Bat Yam, while holding him accountable for the alleged corruption.
The mayor, who had already been temporarily suspended from his post, was arraigned in October 2013 on charges of taking around NIS 900,000 in bribes.
The alleged bribes were 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 that the opposite was true.
She said that 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 that the case against Shlomo Lahiani included not only documentary evidence but also substantial evidence from wiretapped telephone conversations.
After being reelected as 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.”
He added that after a long wait for the state to decide about whether to indict him, the court would finally get to rule on the charges and he was “sure the court will make the right decision.”
But by Thursday, Lahiani appeared to have reached a more sober evaluation of his prospects.
Before the indictment, Lahiani was a highly popular mayor and was credited with a level of revitalization of Bat Yam.