Officers working the Central Tel Aviv Police District have arrested 24 for running an extortion ring, according to a statement released by the Israel National Police this afternoon. The police characterized the criminal enterprise as "one of the largest and most violent," exposed to date on Wednesday.
The suspects will be charged with multiple counts of attempted murder, hundreds of counts of extortion, possession of explosives and explosive devices, arson, aggravated assault, and kidnapping. The indictments are to be filed againt all conspirators in court Thursday.
The syndicate was an alliance of criminal gangs led by Izzat Hammad from Jaffa, who was released from prison two years ago, along with lieutenant David Ezra of Or Yehuda who is currently in prison, and members of the Jaljulyia-based Hariri crime organization who were allegedly used as additional muscle, according to police sources.
"They operated as a hierarchical organized crime organization with defined roles, including a leader, funds people, operational people, weapons storage people, and others. Many offenses were carried out by the suspects," said Assistant Commander Shlomi Michael, head of the Tel Aviv central Unit during a press conference. "Over the past two years... the suspects terrorized residents of Tel Aviv,"
It is suspected the new syndicate "took over" the debts by purchasing them at a discount from creditors and then collected the full amount by force, or simply fabricated debts. They used the extorted money used to purchase weapons, extend their own black market loans, and to underwrite gambling operations.
The gang extorted millions of shekels through threats and violence from businessmen, lawyers and other citizens who owed money to third parties. One tactic attributed to the gang was to approach business owners and inform them they had taken out a loan. When the business owners would protest they had not done so they would be informed, "You did now."
Other victims were Tel Aviv Hapoel footballer Aviv Omri Canada, Shelly Narkis, formerly known as "King of the Black Market," and three lawyers. Omri Canada was warned that if he did not pay 63,000 dollars, he "will not play more football." Former underworld kingpin Narkis was forced to pay 150,000 dollars. One member of the gang was also ordered killed because of poor collections and talking out of turn , but police intervened.
The gang's activities came to the attention of police in early 2010 when a grenade was tossed into the home of the parents of Yaniv Ben-David, one of those being charged in the affair, by members of a rival faction within the gang. During the course of the investigation police were able to recruit two criminal informants, one of whom was the number two man in the gang.
"I must tell you we can attribute serious offenses to all of the suspects. Aggravated assault, vehicle arson, use of firearms including explosives, attempted murders, the placing of a bomb in a car of a woman. When it exploded her young daughter was inside," Michael said. "Thankfully, we managed to prevent number of murders and seize an explosive. There will be additional arrests."