The attorney for an American-Israeli man convicted of hoaxing US Jewish community centers and other targets around the world with thousands of bomb threats has appealed the 10-year prison sentence for his client.
On Sunday, Yoram Sheftel alerted The Times of Israel of the appeal and provided a copy of the document submitted to the Supreme Court on Friday.
In his bid to scrap the conviction of M., 20, whose full name is withheld by a gag order in Israel, Sheftel asserted that there were substantial flaws in Israeli authorities’ interrogation and prosecution of his client.
M. was found guilty in June of hundreds of counts of extortion, publishing false information that caused panic, computer offenses, and money laundering, among other charges. In November, M. was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined NIS 60,000 ($16,068).
The 52-page appeal claimed that the investigators who questioned M. did not take into account his autism diagnosis and were not qualified to interrogate such a suspect. It also suggested that the conviction was based on an alleged admission of guilt made by M. following his arrest that authorities have yet to produce.
The appeal began by pointing out that M. “is the only individual with autism currently serving in Israeli prison, let alone who has been in detention for nearly two years,” since his March 2017 arrest.
Immediately after he was taken into custody, M.’s parents and defense counsel informed authorities that the suspect had been diagnosed with autism and was required by law to be interrogated by an investigator authorized to question individuals with special needs. In addition, the law requires that such a suspect to be interrogated in the presence of a parent.
Both of those legal provisions were violated by authorities, Sheftel charged, arguing that those alleged failures invalidated the entire investigation against his client.
Authorities say M. made over 2,000 threatening calls to mostly American schools, hospitals, and Jewish community centers from 2015 to 2017, using an online calling service that disguised his voice and allowed him to hide his identity. He also targeted hundreds of airlines and airports, malls, and police stations, in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Britain, and tried to extort Republican State Senator Ernesto Lopez from Delaware.
In addition to the bomb threats, M. offered his extortion services through an online black market. Court documents unsealed in August linked him to a post on the now-shuttered illicit marketplace AlphaBay, advertising a “School Email Bomb Threat Service.” The ad offered to send customized threats to schools for $30, plus a surcharge if the buyer seeks to have someone framed.
His threats caused fighter jets to scramble, planes to dump fuel and make emergency landings, schools to evacuate, and numerous other chaotic consequences. In some cases, he allegedly threatened to execute children he claimed to be holding hostage. Police also found hundreds of photos and videos of child pornography on his computer.
The hoax bomb threats, which came in the midst of a far-right surge in the US, sent a chill through Jewish communities, and raised fears of anti-Semitism.
M.’s appeal said that his mental health was exacerbated due to the fact that he never left his house throughout his entire life — save for a handful of occasions — as his parents struggled to diagnose his condition. Doctors several years ago performed an MRI on M., and discovered a brain tumor in addition to the autism documented by district psychiatrists following his arrest.
Notably, the appeal took issue with a line in a report filed by one of the Tel Aviv district psychiatrists who examined M. and claimed he had told her, “I understand that it’s forbidden (what I have done)… I’m sorry. I will not do it anymore.”
The line was cited by the Tel Aviv District Court in the conviction and sentencing of M. as a sign that he could tell right from wrong and should therefore be held responsible for his actions. Sheftel, who throughout the trial did not dispute the allegations against his client, took issue with that claim, saying the quote reflected an emotion M. is incapable of demonstrating.
Sheftel also claimed that upon being made aware during the trial of M.’s alleged admission of guilt, he requested that the district psychiatrist present her notes from M.’s evaluation to the court, but she failed to produce them.
Finally, the appeal argued that the court “ignored or dismissed without any real explanation… the unequivocal determination of the Hadassah Medical Center, where M. was examined by five independent experts who determined that his client was telling the truth when he explained that he had carried out the thousands of hoax threats because he was under the impression that he was ‘causing fun for others'” — for example, children who were able to leave school due to the warnings he phoned in.
The appeal demanded that M. be given a new sentence that is covered by time served and be placed in a psychiatric institution with medical officials equipped to handle someone with his condition.
In addition to the prison sentence in Israel, M. has been indicted on hate crimes charges by the US Department of Justice that would carry a hefty prison term there.