Gregory Lerner (Zvi Ben-Ari) was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison — the maximum penalty he could receive, according to the plea bargain he agreed to. The sentence will be reduced by the 11 months that Lerner spent in prison during his investigation and trial.
Lerner's attorney, Moshe Yisrael, said he would appeal to the Supreme Court for a shorter sentence. If a third of the current sentence is reduced for good behavior, Lerner will be released from prison in two years and eight months.
Lerner was also ordered to pay a fine of NIS 5 million, which he can not appeal.
Lerner, 47, who immigrated to Israel in 1990, was arrested in May 1997 at Ben-Gurion International Airport on his way to the United States. He confessed to 13 of the 15 charges against him as part of the plea bargain.
In explaining the verdict, the judge emphasized that Lerner had confessed to committing acts of fraud and deceit in Russian banks, worth about $50 million, and to attempting to defraud a Russian bank for another $20 million. "The charges ... all cry out 'fraud,' 'deceit' and 'crime,'" wrote the judge, Ezra Kama of the Jerusalem District Court.
"I was convinced that a punishment of less than three years would be unreasonable and inappropriate in such a case, where the scope of the offenses and their gravity are great and significant," Kama wrote.
The judge dismissed an argument by the defense that Lerner should be treated leniently because his crimes were committed as a private citizen, and did not harm the general public. Kama said that there was no reason to make the sentence of a "private" swindler any lighter.
He added that Lerner's intentions when he attempted to obtain a license for opening a bank in Israel were not innocent, as the defense claimed. He pointed out that Lerner pretended to be a licensed banker and behaved as though he managed a bank with financial power.
"The defendant extended his crimes to various places around the world: Russia, Cyprus, Panama and Luxembourg. These acts were carried out, almost all of them, from Israel, which became a 'refuge' and 'operation center' for his deeds," Judge Kama wrote.
He also pointed out that Lerner established and operated many companies, transferring fraudulent money from one to the other.
Responding to the repeated claims of the defense that most of the charges dealt with fraud against "alien banks," the judge wrote, "The commandment 'Thou shalt not steal' does not differentiate between ally, foreigner or alien."
Yoram Sheftel, who was Lerner's attorney until the plea bargain was agreed to, said yesterday that although Lerner confessed to most of the charges, he never committed the crimes. He said Lerner agreed to the plea bargain after he "gave up hope that justice would be done," in light of more than two dozen court decisions that "stripped him of his rights as a defendant.