(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [illustrative])
Twenty-four people said by police to belong to crime organizations were arrested in recent days on suspicion of being involved in one of the largest and most violent racketeering rings exposed to date, police announced Wednesday in Tel Aviv.
The suspects came from two alleged crime organizations that joined forces – one from Jaffa, headed by alleged underworld boss Izat Hamad, and the second from Or Yehuda, allegedly headed by imprisoned underworld figure David Ezra, police said.
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Additional suspects belong to the Jaljulya-based Hariri crime organization, who allegedly were used as additional muscle by Hamad’s Jaffa-based organization, a law enforcement source said.
Police believe the suspects targeted businessmen they considered wealthy and demanded they pay back loans that the victims had never taken out. On other occasions, police say, the suspects took over debts on the gray market, extorted businesses, ran illegal casinos, and used extreme violence to get victims to make payments far higher than the original debts.
During the ring’s years of operation, police added, explosives were planted in vehicles and used in other attacks, and four attempted homicides occurred. Hundreds of cases of aggravated extortion and threats, assault and damage of property through the use of explosives and arson, along with kidnapping, and other offenses are attributed by police to the suspects.
In one instance, events hall managers were allegedly told they “owed a
debt.” When they protested, telling suspects that they did not take out a
loan, they were allegedly told in response, “You did now.”
One businessman, who was “invited” to Jaffa and faced an alleged
aggravated extortion attempt at gunpoint, told the suspects that they
could kill him, but that he would not pay them a thing. The businessman
was not harassed after that.
Police suspect members of Hamad’s organization of attempting to murder a
longstanding underworld rival in Jaffa and sending armed men to scope
out the would-be target.
One known criminal who became involved in the ring was allegedly
targeted for assassination after failing to make good profits on gray
market loans and misspeaking. He, too, was allegedly followed by armed
individuals planning to kill him. Police thwarted the planned homicide.
Two state’s witnesses were recruited by police from within the ranks of the organizations.
One of the witnesses was the No. 2 individual in a racketeering ring.
The arrests resulted in a “dramatic change” in the underworld scene, one law enforcement source said.
“I can’t remember such a high-ranking figure turning state’s witness,” the source said.
“The entire crime world is shocked and does not know who to trust after this.”
One of those allegedly targeted by the ring was Hapoel Tel Aviv player
Omri Canada, who paid the suspects NIS 67,000 for a smaller debt he
built up while gambling at a casino.
The investigation began when a grenade was thrown at a home in Yehud last year.
The inquiry turned into a major undercover investigation run by the central unit of the Tel Aviv Police.
“they operated as a hierarchical organized crime unit with defined
roles, including a leader, funds people, operational people, weapons
storage people, and others. many offenses were carried out by the
suspects,” police said.
“Over the past two years...the suspects terrorized residents of Tel Aviv,” said Asst.-Cmdr.
Shlomi Michael, head of the Tel Aviv Central Unit during a press conference.
“We can attribute serious offenses to all of the suspects.
Aggravated assault, vehicle arson, use of firearms including explosives,
attempted murders, the placing of a bomb in a woman’s car. When it
exploded, her young daughter was inside,” Michael said.
“Thankfully, we managed to prevent a number of murders and seize an explosive.
There will be additional arrests,” he said.