Boss of 'Negev crime ring' convicted in plea bargain

Court convicts Hagai Zagoury, Rami Ezran of leading criminal organization, organizing its activities, conspiracy to murder and other offenses.

Hagai Zagoury, the man police consider the boss of the Negev’s largest crime ring, was convicted of a string of charges in the Beersheba District Court on Thursday, alongside the syndicate’s alleged second-in-command, Rami Ezran.
The convictions came after the Southern District Attorney reached a plea bargain with lawyers for eight men charged with belonging to the crime ring.
The court convicted Zagoury and Ezran of leading a criminal organization, organizing its activities, conspiracy to murder and other offenses. The southern district attorney asked the court to sentence the two to 15 years in prison as well as fines totaling NIS 1.25 million each.
The court will sentence the defendants at a later date.
Significantly the amended indictment that resulted from the plea bargain dropped a murder charge against Zagoury.
The original indictment charged him with ordering a hit against former football player Eli Uzan. Under the plea bargain, Zagoury agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday that the murder charge had been based mostly on various pieces of circumstantial evidence, mostly from the testimony of a state witness.
The other charges in the indictment included counts of belonging to a criminal organization for various criminal purposes, including conspiracy, attempts to harm people and property, operating explosives, and various uses of weapons during a conflict between criminal gangs.
According to the amended indictment, members of the gang would use violence against debtors in order to charge them high interest rates, and would extort people they considered their enemies.
The defendants were also convicted of large-scale gambling den operations, as well as smuggling cigarettes and alcohol, drug trafficking, and gambling on the cruise ship Magic One. Other offenses included tax fraud, money laundering and providing loans worth millions of shekels.
The Justice Ministry spokeswoman added that the plea bargain entailed the most severe punishments consistent with other rulings for similar offenses.
She also said the plea bargain had involved negotiating complex circumstances, including testimony from three members of the crime ring who had turned state witness. The district attorney had been concerned that the court would not trust the information the three witnesses divulged.
In the plea bargain, the court was asked to impose prison sentences of various shorter durations on the other six defendants, as well as fines totaling half a million shekels.