War in the underworld

The violent struggle between the Domrani, Shlomo families has battered the Lachish Region with shootings, assassinations; What are police doing about it?

Ashkelon car bomb 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Southern District Police)
Ashkelon car bomb 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Southern District Police)
It was noon on July 2. The car belonging to crime family head Beni Shlomo cruised down the road from Moshav Heletz towards the main road, then turned toward Ashkelon.
As Shlomo and his two bodyguards drove for about 10 kilometers through the burning hot desert, they failed to notice an unfamiliar car following them on Road 232, until they reached Givati Junction.
At the same time, three members of another famous crime family from Ashdod, who were receiving around-the-clock updates as to the car’s exact location, waited patiently for it to reach the intersection. One man stood out of view at the northeast corner of the intersection; he was wearing a mask and gloves and holding an M16 rifle. A second man waited on a stolen Timax motorcycle 50 meters from there.
He was also outfitted with a mask and gloves.
Two hundred meters north, a third accomplice waited in an escape car – a Mazda 323 belonging to Assaf Lavie, of the Rehovot Lavie crime family, who according to police sources is in the midst of a blood feud with Shlomo.
The three men had done their homework; they had formulated their plan according to serious operational and intelligence information. They knew the Skoda was fitted with bulletproof side windows, so the only weak point was the front windshield. While Shlomo’s driver slowed at the intersection to turn left towards Ashkelon on Road 35 West, the assassin, who had been hiding with his gun in the northern corner, ran out in front of the car and started shooting.
All in all, 25 bullets were shot at the car, only some penetrating the windshield.
Shlomo and his bodyguards were all wounded.
The assassin quickly fled without completing his mission. He jumped on the waiting motorcycle and the two accomplices rushed off to the Mazda, where they threw the guns and motorcycle into the bushes, hopped into the car and sped away.
Unfortunately for them, at that very moment there happened to be two mounted policemen at the intersection, Yossi Orinovitz and Shahar Miller, who took off on their horses after the Timax. The Mazda quickly disappeared from sight – but not before they had noted its license plate number.
MEANWHILE, SHLOMO, who was injured and bleeding heavily, quickly gathered his strength and began speeding towards Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, accompanied by police cars that had been sent to the crime scene. His armored car, which was now full of bullet holes, was towed to the police station for further investigation.
The three men responsible for the shooting fled north and hid in Tiberias. The police officers’ resourcefulness led them to quickly solve the case and bring an indictment against the man who was suspected of engineering the hit: Assaf Lavie, as well as the three suspects physically involved in the shooting – Nissim Cohen, Michael Ben-Shimon and Mordechai Dayan.
The connection between the getaway car and the Lavie family also led to excellent raw intelligence for the three police units that have been investing the pact between the Lavie crime family and mobster Shalom Domrani’s organization. They had formed this syndicate in an effort to overcome their common enemy: Beni Shlomo from Moshav Heletz, who up until a year ago was the “soul mate” of and senior operative in the organization of his neighbor from Moshav Otzem.
In spite of the solid intelligence and excellent police work, actual assassinations and attempts continued to take place in the coastal cities and Lachish area communities.
The deadliest incident in recent weeks was a slew of attacks in Ashkelon, which according to intelligence sources were in revenge for the attempt on Shlomo’s life and the plot to harm him.
Organized crime figures, as well as the police, are having a hard time pointing to the exact moment when Domrani and Shlomo stopped being friends and became bitter enemies. What they know for certain is that the two of them are behaving like twins who’ve been separated.
The two men know minute details about each other, and each one is holed up inside his fortified house in neighboring communities. They have the same high walls and security systems, and are busy planning their next attacks.
So we decided to pay them a visit.
OTZEM IS the moshav where everything started. In the early 2000s, Domrani was released from jail and took Ashkelon by storm. Over the years the streets were littered with the bodies of a number of well-known local criminals, such as Amitzur Cohen, Yigal Zhano and Meir Ganon.
These assassinations might have been forgotten by the general public, and the main suspect, Domrani, was not indicted for any of the murders. But the family and friends of the people who were killed have not sat idly by, waiting. As a result, after surviving a number of assassination attempts and quarreling with Yitzhak Abergel, Domrani moved to Moshav Otzem in 2005.
Domrani had a few close friends among the powerful families on the moshav, such as the Erjuan and Shido families, as well as a few excellent places to conceal weapons and carry out target practice.
Even before he moved to the moshav, Domrani was arrested along with another moshav member, Moshe “Chiko” Dahan. Two Lachish detectives caught them inside an old house on the moshav with two LAW missiles. After chasing them on foot on dirt roads, the two were arrested – barefoot and dirty – at a roadblock near Kiryat Gat. In a plea bargain that was hatched by their lawyers, Avi Himi and Yarom Halevy, Dahan took the fall and Domrani was released to continue cultivating his empire.
Shortly thereafter, Domrani bought a house on the moshav and built a high wall around it, equipping it with the most advanced protective system available – including a network of cameras that were stationed around the moshav and its main entrance. His home was turned into a type of haven to which criminals from around the country flock to pay homage to the man, or devise evil plots against him. There are the detectives and policemen who regularly raid the house, and officials from the Tax Authority and even the Israel Lands Authority who meet with him. And last but not least, the media has also repeatedly tried to find a way in.
Otzem is a very small moshav with maybe a few dozen families, mostly people working on the land whose parents or grandparents made aliya from Morocco. It’s hard to believe residents enjoy the craziness Domrani brings, which has become a routine part of their lives. Unfortunately for the police, though, the residents have not opened their mouths even once to give information – partly due to Domrani’s deep friendship with moshav members, and his generous contributions to local religious institutions and poor families.
Last month, Otzem seemed relatively quiet, with only a little tension. The tiny houses built in the 1950s still stand there like a museum exhibit, although most of them are abandoned. In other houses that were built in the modest, red-roofed style of the 1960s, tired elderly residents live behind open doors. Their screen doors are the only thing that sits between them and the outside world. Here and there, a house that has been renovated stands out – but nothing flashy. The roads, which are broken and cracked, have not been repaved in decades.
Even Domrani’s house does not have a nouveau riche feel to it. The only part visible from the outside is the concrete wall surrounded by barbed wire and cameras.
Everyone arriving or leaving looks around; every once in a while, a car with suspicious- looking people enters the moshav.
The front door hints at two motifs that characterize Domrani’s life.
The first one is grandiosity. It turns out that Domrani likes everything big. Above the wide entrance is a sign made from wood and metal, which reads in huge Hebrew letters, “May the Lord always be in front of me.” This is similar to the sign above the grave of his father, Zecharia, in the Ashkelon cemetery.
Since moving to Otzem, Domrani has become more religious, becoming much more fanatical after his father died. He wears a kippa all the time now and meets with Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto all over the world – in Morocco, Bulgaria, and here in Israel. He studies with him, gets advice from him and donates tens of thousands of shekels to his organizations.
Anyone who hasn’t seen Domrani with Pinto hasn’t seem him get as excited as a little boy who gets a hug from his rabbi.
YOU MAY be wondering: How does the newly religious Domrani justify all the dead bodies he’s left behind him? The answer leads us to the second motif that characterizes Domrani these days: seclusion.
Everyone is talking about it; people in the world of crime, as well as the police. What his enemies are saying is a bit harder to discern. Domrani often switches cars and ensures everything is constantly under surveillance. He has been living under attack in Israel for over a year now, preferring to remain within the safety of his house on his moshav, behind the walls with his family.
But none of this has succeeded in stopping people from reaching Domrani. A Beduin man from the Jawrushi family took a few shots at him, and the Megidish brothers from Kiryat Gat planned to kill him by firing an anti-tank missile from atop a tractor parked near Domrani’s house. Then there was Pini Mizrahi, a dangerous independent criminal from Ashkelon who also has a beef with Domrani.
Since it has become so difficult to reach Domrani directly, his enemies have also begun targeting his associates. After recent events, it is now clear that it is starting to be dangerous to be one of Domrani’s guys.
Near Moshav Heletz, is Moshav Nehora, where the soldier Shai Ben-Amo – Domrani’s new enemy – lives. He was recently mistakenly wounded by shots fired by Yaron Sanker, the Ohana family’s gunman, who was sent to kill Domrani after he expressed his joy when their brother, Hananya Ohana, was killed. (Incidentally, the dead man was another of Domrani’s friends from jail he later came to hate.) After serving a short prison sentence for being involved in the gas cartel case, Ben-Amo moved to Nehora, within spitting distance of his boss’s home in Moshav Otzem. Ben-Amo decided to be extreme in his actions against Domrani, and began hosting scary-looking criminals at his house, who drive into the moshav in their fancy cars.
Domrani began setting up cameras around the moshav and at the entrance, but this was too much for community leaders in the Lachish Regional Council. No formal complaints were made with Nehora police, but information was gathered from frightened neighbors. Lachish Central Unit detectives got involved; they removed the cameras and opened an investigation into the legality of placing private cameras in public spaces.
THE BIGGEST riddle left unsolved from the most recent shooting is Beni Shlomo and his brother, Shalom Shlomo. Both live on Moshav Heletz, a pastoral desert community that used to have an active oil well, and today hosts many bed-and-breakfasts and students, with potential to be a desirable location for environmentalists.
Despite the positive outlook on the moshav’s future, an incident in October cannot be ignored: when barbarians torched a kindergarten on the moshav in response to a conflict with its teacher, Leah Cohen. Then there’s Beni Shlomo’s house, which is surrounded by the same high walls, barbed wire and security cameras found at Domrani’s.
The public is not even aware that a bloody war is being waged between Amos and Ophir Lavie, and a few other nephews and family members from Rehovot and surroundings, with the Shlomo brothers.
Lavie family members have sustained a number of serious injuries.
In 2011 Shlomo’s uncle, Haim Lavie, survived an assassination attempt, when a bomb planted in his car exploded in downtown Rehovot. Haim Lavie, who sells brand-name clothing in the outdoor market, was blinded in the bombing.
Is this the reason his son, Assaf, was accused of attempting to assassinate Beni Shlomo two years after his father lost his sight? It might be, but even before that assassination attempt, in November 2012, the Lavie brothers’ 20-year-old nephew, Gal Noam of Yavne, was assassinated by a car bomb. No one understands why Gal was murdered, since he was just a young boy with no criminal background. Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity, and the bombers were really targeting his older brother who was in jail. Or perhaps they were just trying to hurt someone close to the Lavie family, since they had taken such extreme measures to protect themselves – and this was the only way to get at them.
The answer to this question has not yet been found, but in April 2013, Yisrael Amar of Rehovot was shot at close range. He was the brother of the imprisoned Yehuda Amar, considered one of the closest people to the Shlomo brothers. Central Region police investigators tried in vain to prove that the young nephew, Amos Lavie, was in charge of the Ethiopian gang from Kiryat Moshe, which has been accused of murder.
Since they could not discover any clear motive, the police concluded the Shlomo brothers were behind the Gal Noam murder, as a way to hurt the Lavie brothers – who in retaliation murdered Yisrael Amar. Police had enough evidence to arrest the suspects, but not enough to indict them.
Then, three weeks after the Beni Shlomo assassination attempt, on July 24 at 4 p.m. at Givati Intersection, two powerful explosives were found in the Honda belonging to Amos Lavie, the youngest leader of the crime family. Police imposed a curfew on the entire street in the Ofer neighborhood of Rehovot, and it took them 10 hours to dismantle the bombs.
Just one of the bombs would have been enough to bring about the same results as the ones that were planted on cars belonging to Domrani associates, which led to the death of Jackie Benita, and to Avi Biton and Dror Damari losing their legs.
IN THE photograph of the four of them that is pasted on Damari’s Facebook page, you get a feel for the four criminals’ chic style.
By the way, “May the Lord always be in front of me” also appears on Damari’s Facebook page, just as it appears above the big boss’s door.
THE SHLOMO brothers are expected to be the next big thing, but first they will need to survive the bitter war with the Lavie brothers from Rehovot, as well as overcome the “black” obstacle from Otzem.
Some police investigators describe the Shlomo brothers as “Domrani’s soul mates, who became sworn enemies due to a financial conflict and claims of theft.” Senior Domrani associates deny the claim they were so close, but all agree they had been friends and partners in a number of mining and landfill waste ventures. “Who could have predicted that this would come from someone so close to him?” a few associates said at Benita’s funeral.
Despite his position, Beni Shlomo does not have a long criminal history. In 2009, he was convicted of extortion and sentenced to six months of community service, due to his clean record and the Probation Service’s positive report. In July 2011, however, this did not prevent him from blackmailing and threatening one of his friends, also an associate: car dealer Yitzhak Simoni of Rishon Lezion.
Shlomo had signed on as a guarantor on large vehicle transactions that Simoni had carried out, for which he received fat commissions, and the two families used to vacation together in Eilat.
At the time, Beni Shlomo was under covert surveillance by Lahav 433, which was monitoring him in connection with Domrani. The undercover detectives documented Shlomo threatening and attacking Simoni; the case was based entirely on photographs. However, Simoni refused to file a complaint.
This was despite the detectives having observed Shlomo “pinning [Simoni] to the wall in an alley, threatening him and saying to him, ‘What you brought me is not good enough. This is not going to end well.’” Simoni replied, trying to appease him, “But that’s all I have!” Simoni not only refused to file a police complaint against Shlomo, he did the opposite. In his testimony, Simoni described his relationship with Shlomo as very friendly, and as a result, the Lahav 443 unit was unable to use his testimony in court (having originally planned to use him as the key witness).
During the trial, Shlomo and Simoni continued working and hanging out together, and Simoni even accompanied Shlomo to one of his court hearings. The situation got so out of hand that the plaintiff complained to the judge, requesting that Shlomo’s bail be revoked due to a violation of conditions – the documented hobnobbing with a key witness, also based on wiretapped conversations between the two of them.
The so-called friendship between the defendant and the victim did not convince Judge Ido Druyan, who based his decision on the undercover reports, a year ago sentencing Shlomo to one year in jail. The judge delayed the execution of the sentence until the appeal hearing in the district court.
In the meantime, someone tried to kill Shlomo – and the city of Ashkelon is on fire.
BENI SHLOMO is the younger, more levelheaded and moderate of the two brothers.
He is quiet yet charismatic, and is raking in lots of money from legitimate businesses he manages with a tight fist. The only police unit currently watching Shlomo is the Economic Crime Unit, which believes he is a criminal with a lot of financial resources, who knows how to buy and deploy associates and bombs.
“Shlomo is very smart,” a source who knows him says. “Perhaps he’s not well-educated, but he is extremely wise and does not get overly excited about small things.
He was a very close friend of Domrani’s and when I heard that the two of them were not talking to each other, I was totally shocked. I asked myself, how could he be in conflict with Shalom Domrani?” His older brother, Shalom Shlomo, owns a furniture store in the Bilu Shopping Center and is also a smart, sophisticated businessman, but is known to have a short temper and get a bit wild. The two brothers complement each other well.
Over the last three years, Shalom was arrested a number of times by the Central Police Unit, for a few murder attempts and on suspicion of murdering Gal Noam.
THE POLICE appeal to the court claims that all of the killings are connected to the gang war between the Shlomo and Lavie brothers.
Shalom Shlomo was arrested based on intelligence, but it was not enough to book him and he was released. The Central Unit has not given up, however, and is still trying to prove his connection to the murder. Three months ago, police carried out searches in both of the Shlomo brothers’ homes in Moshav Heletz; the detectives were hoping to find weapons there, but were disappointed.
Although the police still don’t understand which specific event led to the dispute between Domrani and Beni Shlomo, a general picture of the conflict based on business transactions is what led to the joining of Domrani and the Lavie brothers on one side, and a series of attacks against senior Domrani associates on the other. The police suspect that Domrani associates have been involved in tenders in the landfill waste industry, which has brought in large amounts of money to their organization.
In addition, they suspect that Shlomo and his organization have also been actively involved in the industry. But over the last two years, while Domrani was living in Morocco, the organizational discipline of Domrani’s group became lax, and Shlomo recognized this as an opportunity to make a move.
Detectives realized this when on October 6, a grenade was thrown at Ofer Machluf’s house in Moshav Beit Shikma.
Machluf and his father are contractors who work in the landfill removal business, and they have very little connection to the underworld. After the grenade incident, they told police they have no enemies. But they do have a lot of evidence against Moshe Lugasi, a well-known criminal from Ashkelon who is closely tied to Domrani.
(Detectives actually noted that Dror Damari is an active friend of Lugasi’s on Facebook.
For school affiliation, Damari wrote, “The school of life.”) Lachish Central Police began investigating whether Machluf or others from his moshav were working for Beni Shlomo, or if they’d won tenders due to their connection with Shlomo – since he is the one pulling the strings behind the scenes to protect Domrani’s territory.
We couldn’t find any evidence to prove this, so we turned to Machluf and asked him what he thinks about the grenade thrown at his home. He replied, “Whoever did this is either a cop or a transvestite – that’s my response to them. Beni Shlomo is a childhood friend of mine, that’s it. Does that help you? It would be great if we knew who did it. There’s no connection between this incident and Beni Shlomo.”
WHILE WE were traversing about between the moshavim, we suddenly thought of brothers Oded and Sharon Perinian, who used to be underworld leaders in the Lachish area under the protection of senior rogue cops in the Southern district.
The police claim the Perinian brothers are no longer in the game, and that since they were released from prison, they have deliberately cut ties with the underworld and are busy running their legal businesses, which include a successful restaurant and a banquet hall. Their brother, Yigal Perinian, lives in a huge villa overlooking the sea in the Ashkelon marina.
Another source mentioned that since one of the Perinian brothers is married to a Megidish from Kiryat Gat, they told both families – Domrani and Megidish – that they’re not choosing sides.
The official version is correct, but not accurate. On Moshav Hodaya, the Perinian brothers built a gigantic complex of holiday cabins they rent out to vacationers and for events. The gorgeous, well-kept complex comprises five tastefully designed cabins, lots of lush trees and shrubbery, palm and pine trees, and of course, a swimming pool. The holiday village looks like it’s straight out of Savyon or Caesarea, and is surrounded by a huge, stylish brick wall.
The thing is, the Perinian brothers never applied for a business license or building permits for the complex, and Lachish police had an extremely hard time putting an end to their party. As of now, the Perinian brothers are not renting out the cabins, until the regional planning and building authority decides how to handle their case.
ON OUR way back from Ashkelon, we stopped off at Moshav Sde Uziyahu, which is where Domrani’s fictitious invoice scam got started. A relative of his, Nissim Glam, created an empire that brought in tens of millions of shekels from selling scrap iron and issuing fictitious invoices.
“The moshav became a haven for metal dealers from all around the country,” says a senior police official. “All sorts of dodgy characters showed up there, but there were no killings or weapons or any such thing there.”
Glam was sentenced to 10 years in jail, and the state is still trying to appropriate property he owns on the moshav. A number of people across the country copied his business model for providing fictitious receipts, and according to the Tax Authority and the Beersheba District Court, fictitious receipts for more than a billion shekels have made the rounds since then.
The Tel Aviv District Tax Authority almost had its hands on Domrani at one point, when it convinced a conniving state witness to name Domrani in court. He had already signed an agreement with the authority, but at the last moment he slipped away and disappeared into the underworld.
They found him two years later, when he was caught for trading in fictitious receipts with Rico Shirazi. This time, he agreed to testify and followed through on his promise. Shirazi is now facing serious charges based on this problematic state witness’s testimony.
Police made a public statement last month. They claim they have no intention of letting Domrani or his new opponent, Beni Shlomo, off the hook. “The two of them are holed up in their houses, not daring to step outside,” said a senior police officer who is participating in the pursuit of Israel’s two leading mobsters.
“Tell me, what kind of life is that? They live like dogs.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.