'I’m a criminal' – Reputed mob boss gives court rare glimpse of underworld life

Bullet proof vests and armored cars, rings of security guards and switching out SIM cards to avoid police wiretaps – all part of the life Moti Hassin lived before his arrest and indictment for the murder of two friends and former associates in March 2012.

Moti Hassin 370 (photo credit: Screenshot Channel 10)
Moti Hassin 370
(photo credit: Screenshot Channel 10)
Moti Hassin didn’t mince words Tuesday morning. The reputed mob boss told the presiding judge at the Tel Aviv District Court that he’s lived a life of crime, doing a number of illegal things to support his family.
"I am a criminal", Hassin said, and added “I’m not going to sugarcoat things. I am who I am, the police know who I am, the street knows who I am, so people would turn to me for help,” when asked why he, a simple scrap-metal dealer, would for years get calls from prisoners asking for him to help their families or put money in their commissaries.
The Bat Yam-based underworld figure is reportedly the acting boss of the Abergil crime family while former boss Yitzhak Abergil is incarcerated in the US.
He was testifying in court for the first time Tuesday in his trial for the murder of Avi David and Itzik Geffen, two former associates and friends of Hassins. They were gunned down in Bat Yam in the span of two months in 2011. Police believe that Hassin and fellow defendants, Yitzhak Zerbi and brothers Shlomi and Ofir Niamchuk, carried out the killings. The homicides were suspected to be a part of Hassin’s efforts to establish his position as the new leader of the Abergil family after returning to Israel from Mexico, by eliminating two associates that had reportedly crossed over to rival crime groups.
David was shot dead at point blank range outside a Bat Yam steak house in October 2011 and two months later Itzik Geffen was killed in a hail of gunfire at a gas station next to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
The first killing took place moments after David and Hassin left the steak house. Police believe Hassin arranged to be there in order to establish the alibi that he was the target of a botched hit, one that he in fact arranged in order to kill David.
Hassin, nicknamed “the spectacles” because of his trademark eye glasses, is a 34-year-old father of three whose family lives in Rishon Lezion.
In court he described his day job as the manager of a bottle-recycling yard in south Tel Aviv and later a scrapyard in Bat Yam. He described moving to Mexico with his wife and kids in March 2010 to set up a textile company, saying that the decision was made largely based on warnings from police that his life was in danger.
“The police warned me that there was an imminent and serious threat to my life and they recommended I leave the country,” Hassin said, adding “why did they warn me? I don’t know, I have my assumptions but I won’t reveal them to the court.”
When asked again by the judge why he was warned, he said “I wish I knew why. A lot of it is because of the people I circulated with and the media contributed to this a lot too.”
He added that police would often not only warn him about the danger he was in, but they would say, “make sure you don’t hurt anyone, because we’re watching you.”
He said he spent his time in Mexico importing textiles from China on container ships and selling them to businessmen in the country, adding that he moved back to Israel in August 2011 after his family pressured him to be close to home. His return was only a few months after Yitzhak Abergil was extradited to the US, and police believe he returned to run the organization in Yitzhak’s absence.
Hassin gave some insight into the scrap yard he ran, saying that it was a meeting place for customers and employees, junk dealers, and also, his criminal friends and associates. When asked if any of the people who visited the place were criminals, he answered “yes, most of them”, and rattled off a series of names including Avi Ruhan and Chico Ben-Adeh from the Sharon-based crime family linked to the Abergils.
He said that members of the Taiba-based Israeli-Arab Abdel-Kader crime family, one of the main investigative targets of Israeli police, had visited often.
At the moment Hassin is being kept in isolation in Ayalon Prison, where he said he is kept alone because authorities believe he is in danger and to keep him from hurting other prisoners.
When asked about this period of time and the previous years, Hassin described a paranoid routine lived under constant fear and precaution.
For the four or five years before he went to Mexico he said he was always with bodyguards, and when he didn’t have money for security he would travel with friends at all time. He said that even with armored cars at his disposal, he preferred using motorcycles.
“On a motorcycle no one can tell who you are. Also it’s very hard to put a bomb on one without anyone noticing and it’s fast and can get you in and out of traffic easily,” he said.
The court asked Hassin about the toll such fears took on his family life, to which he replied “first off, my kids and my wife never ride with me in the car. Also when we go on family visits or trips, I always drive in a different car. I never once walked around with them [the kids] not to school, to the park. We have absolute separation. I never take them anywhere, because I’m afraid people will hurt them that they’ll want to hurt me and hurt them accidentally.”
He said that he never went to weddings or other events where large crowds would be, and at the circumcision of his twin sons, he invited only a small group of close friends to a neighborhood synagogue. He hired between 20 and 30 bodyguards to secure the scene.
Hassin repeatedly described Avi David as a close friend he knew for nearly a decade. He said part of the closeness was forged while David and Hassin’s father, convicted murderer and former fugitive Aharon “Bambo” Hassin, were incarcerated together. David was at the time in prison for an attempted hit on the life of then-Netanya crime boss Assi Abutbul, an enemy of the Abergils.
When he was asked why didn’t he try and help his friend after he was shot outside the restaurant, Hassin said “when you live this life that I live, you think first off that you are also a target for a hit, so you run. This is something you do by instinct. Even if I’d stayed I don’t know I could have helped.”
Hassin said he made it to his car and fled the scene for the house of an associate, Yossi Castro in Hod Hasharon. Castro himself would later die in a suspected underworld hit.
Police believe both the killings of Geffen and David were what are known in Israel as “Red Riding Hood” murders – where the target is invited to a meeting at a specific location by an associate who is planning to kill them.
Hassin is to be brought to give testimony next on December 15th.