Former Heftsiba clients lament plea bargain

MKs accuse government of "neglecting the real victims."

Heftsiba buyers 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Heftsiba buyers 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the news spread that former Heftsiba CEO Boaz Yona had agreed to a plea bargain sentencing him to seven years in jail and a fine of NIS four million, spurned customers of his now-bankrupt construction company said they felt the sentence was far too light, with one group hiring a lawyer and pledging to contest Yona's plea deal at the Supreme Court. "We spoke with lawyers today and they told us that they want to check some things out," said Natan Rosenblatt, who in 2005 purchased a Heftsiba home in Modi'in Illit that was left unfinished when the company went bankrupt. He and other Heftsiba clients have joined forces to try and repeal Yona's plea bargain. "Overall, they told us that there is a good chance we can fight it," he said. Rosenblatt is part of a group of religious Jews who paid cash up front for homes in the new Kiryat Sefer neighborhood of Modi'in Illit. When they received word that Heftsiba had gone under, some of them moved into their apartments regardless, hoping to finish the work themselves. Others simply couldn't afford it. But when Rosenblatt found out that Yona had been extradited back to Israel, he was originally hopeful at the prospect of justice being served. "The first moment I heard that Boaz Yona was coming back to Israel, I was very happy," he told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. "We have a lot of questions to ask him, and most of all, we want to know what happened to our money." But after Rosenblatt's initial optimism, he said he felt disappointed with the outcome of the plea bargain, and that in this case, the punishment did not fit the crime. "[Yona] said he wants to give back [NIS 4m.]," Rosenblatt said. "Do you know what that means for each family? [NIS] 800," he said. "[NIS] 854, to be exact." An estimated 4,700 families were affected by Heftsiba's demise, some worse than others, but all losing money and real estate they had hoped would bring them a better life. "I have six kids and we live in a two-room apartment," Rosenblatt said. "We have a dining room and two bedrooms - one for me and my wife, and another for the six kids. I wanted to better my life, and I found a new apartment with four rooms - three bedrooms and a dining room, with a garden outside. So, I bought it. And then [Heftsiba] came and said, 'bye-bye'. But, my situation is better than most of the others' because I still have my old apartment. Most people sold theirs and have nothing left." He is one of many of Heftsiba's former clients who argue that the financial damage they've sustained will last long after Yona's jail sentence is up. "[Yona] will serve four and a half years and get out for good behavior," said Haim Shapira, another Modi'in Illit resident and former client of Heftsiba. "The public will forget the whole thing and he'll buy a Ferrari. He'll be a businessman, and his family will live luxuriously, on my money. I'm going to feel the pain of this situation for the next 20 years," he said. "My kids won't have the money to go to college, while Yona's will go to the best universities." Shapira was also given the opportunity to purchase a nice home from Heftsiba, for a good price. All he was expected to do, he says, was pay 80 percent of the cost up front, in cash. "I bought the apartment, which was almost done, and took out a loan from the bank. A month and a half later [Heftsiba] called me and said, 'We need the other 20%.' So I told them I wouldn't pay until I had the keys to my new place. When they went bankrupt, I got another call, and they told us, 'Go into the apartment, but the money you stole from us, the remaining 20%, we won't let you get away with it.' That was the last we heard from them," Shapira said. Beyond their financial woes, both Rosenblatt and Shapira feel that what they consider the perversion of justice of Yona's light sentencing, has taken away their faith in the Israeli legal system. "I think that today in Israel it's worthwhile to steal money from people," Shapira said. "I think this plea bargain sends the message that if you steal you'll make a profit, but if not, you lose out. I have a family, and [Heftsiba] told us, come in, pay up front and we'll give you a great deal. So I did, and I am suffering for it until this day." Meanwhile, MKs from across the political spectrum expressed their frustration with the state's decision to sign on to the plea bargain. Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On called on the chairman of the Kensset's Law Committee, Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), to summon State Attorney Moshe Lador to the committee in order to "give an explanation" of the deal cut with Yona. Gal-On accused the State Attorney of failing to "protect the public's interest," and instead "preventing justice from coming to light and stopping courts from doing their job." Gal-On said the deal might hinder efforts to expose others tied to the case, including bank managers, adding that it would also make it harder to demand that others responsible pay compensation fees to home buyers who were hurt by Heftsiba. "The state neglected the real victims, the families who were hurt by the collapse of the company," said Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, an active participant in Knesset meetings with the frustrated Heftsiba buyers. "If the state could have gotten four million, why not instead demand 14 or 15 million that could be budgeted to a fund to help those buyers who have still been left helpless.' Rivlin called on Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On and Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim to respond to the Finance Committee's calls to turn over the funding that the government, together with banks, had promised to help back up the expenses of Heftsiba buyers. MK Yoram Marciano (Labor) also called on the government to rethink the move, requesting that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz veto the plea bargain deal.