Loan shark gang used violence to milk south TA residents, indictment alleges

Gang uses threatening text messages, surprise home visits, and violence to run an extortion ring.

Police crime scene south Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Police crime scene south Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
A gang of 10 young men used threatening text messages, surprise home visits, irate phone calls to victims’ relatives and violence to run an extortion ring in south Tel Aviv in recent years, it is alleged.
The methods were detailed in an indictment presented by the Tel Aviv State Attorney’s Office on Wednesday. It accuses the men of offenses including extortion by threat, extortion through violence and conspiracy to commit a crime.
The gang typically charged interest of as much as 24 percent on loans that were typically given to people in the lowincome Hatikva neighborhood who found themselves in need of quick cash.
The indictment details how when several borrowers were no able to make the monthly interest payments, the threats and harassment began, quickly worsening as the debts remained unpaid.
The suspects, Ya’acov Yom Tov, 31, Moshe Ashkenazi, 23, Roi Ashuli, 30, Yaniv Malka, 23, Igor Yunayev, 27, Ezra Tzuraf, 26, Reuven Mattatov, 27, Avraham Yosofov, 24, Guy Ashuli, 24, and Elad Cohen, 23, are all from Tel Aviv, Holon or Petah Tikva. All but one of them have criminal records for violent offenses and/or drugs and property crimes. Yom Tov served eight months for a weapons charge and is a chief suspect in a murder case.
Yom Tov’s name appears repeatedly in the indictment as a ringleader of sorts, coordinating collection methods and calling debtors to threaten them and their families.
The indictment is based on wiretaps and video of the gang’s extortion methods, as well as testimony from a series of debtors, in particular a woman named Sigi, whose sister “R.” borrowed a total of NIS 38,000 in four loans in 2011.
For more than a year, the indictment states, various members of the gang called Sigi and R., threatening both of them that they would “mess them up,” cursing them and their families, as well as sending threatening SMS messages.
On a number of occasions members of the gang appeared at the building Sigi lived in with her sister, her young son, and their elderly parents, and yelled curses and threats at her and her family members, according to the indictment.
On one occasion, Yom Tov and three other men allegedly appeared at the family home and banged on the door until Sigi opened it, then charged inside and began threatening the family; the sisters’ elderly father passed out and had to be hospitalized.
Yom Tov also allegedly called R.’s grandmother and told her that he was owed NIS 6,600 by her daughter who gave him a bounced check. He threatened that if he didn’t get the money that day, he would return with police and they would “repossess” the grandmother’s belongings. The rattled grandmother scraped together NIS 2,600 that day, the indictment alleges.
The gang was first brought to Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on July 16. All 10 men were young, most were heavy-set, and they joked and smiled for the handful of cameramen present.
Yom Tov was the first brought in, and made an obscene gesture for the press before returning to his seat in the dock.
They were met at the court by about a dozen supporters, all of them large young men themselves, most of them wearing identical black kippot.
With the issuing of the indictment on Wednesday, the court ordered the men held in custody until the end of the legal proceedings against them, arguing that if released they might go after the witnesses who have agreed to testify against them.