The State Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday reached a plea agreement that will tack an additional 45 days onto the seven-year sentence of an American-Israeli man convicted of hoaxing US Jewish community centers and other targets around the world with thousands of bomb threats.
As part of the arrangement, M., the 21-year-old hacker from Ashkelon, whose name is barred from publication, pleaded guilty to having phoned in additional bomb threats from prison. In exchange, the prosecution dropped a charge of attempted escape, M.’s father told The Times of Israel, adding that the incident referred to as an escape had been a psychotic episode. His son is diagnosed with autism.
M.’s parents insist that their son is not responsible for his actions. The defendant told interrogators after his March 2017 arrest that he thought the bomb threats were part of a “game” and that he was “causing fun” for others.
Despite what he insisted was a lack of evidence to substantiate the attempted escape charge, M.’s father explained that he and his wife had no choice but to agree to the plea deal, with the hope that once the charge is scrapped from his record the court will agree to remove M. from the maximum security ward for those who pose an escape risk.
The defendant’s father, G., whose name is also barred from publication, said that he has filed an appeal with the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to compel the Israel Prisons Service to improve M.’s conditions, insisting that his son is the only inmate in the prison system with autism and that the guards mistreat him and don’t know how to handle someone with his condition.
Since being jailed over three years ago, the 21-year-old has yet to be examined by an autism expert to determine if his prison conditions are suitable for his developmental disorder, as required by law, his father said.
The IPS did not immediately respond to the allegations of mistreatment by guards at the Nitzan Prison in Ramle, where M. is being held.
A hearing on M.’s petition to leave maximum security and meet an expert is scheduled for next month.
The attempted escape and bomb threat charges had been part of a second indictment against M. filed in October 2018, four months after he was convicted of some 2,000 of counts of extortion, computer offenses, money laundering and publishing false information that caused panic, among other charges.
His phone calls 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 an ongoing surge of far-right extremism in the United States, sent a chill through Jewish communities, stoking fears of anti-Semitic attacks.
In November 2018, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined NIS 60,000 ($16,068). His attorney Yoram Sheftel appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court, leading to a January 2020 decision by the top legal body to reduce M.’s sentence by three years due “to the fact that the appellant is on the autistic spectrum.”
In the second indictment, M. is accused of collecting phone numbers of schools, malls and hotels on slips of paper he hid in his cell. He managed to acquire the phone access of one of his fellow inmates and used it to call in fresh hoax bomb threats to a pair of elementary schools and an Eilat hotel on the morning of April 29, 2018, according to the charge sheet.
Sunday’s arrangement saw M.’s defense team admit to those charges.
The alleged escape charge dropped due to the plea deal referred to an incident that took place in June 2018 following an examination at a Probation Service office in Ashkelon.
According to the original indictment, M. put on four pairs of socks the morning of the incident to prevent his cuffs from tightening around his legs. After the exam he was placed back in a prison van to be transferred back to jail.
Shortly after the prison vehicle began its journey to Ramle’s Nitzan prison, M. managed to uncuff his legs and began to furiously kick the back door. The officers pulled over on Route 4 and opened the door to check on the inmate, at which point, the indictment alleged, M. attempted to jump out of the vehicle, but was blocked by the guards. M. was cuffed again, placed in a second vehicle, as the back door of the first had sustained significant damage, and transferred back to Nitzan.
Recalling the incident to The Times of Israel last year, G. denied the court’s characterization of an attempted escape, and claimed that prior to entering the van, M. had witnessed one of the prison guards assaulting his father, who was filming the officers.
Footage of the encounter that G. provided to The Times of Israel shows M. being led by three guards to a van that pulls up as they walk outside following the examination. Before M. is ushered into the van, one of the officers chastises G. for filming.
G. said the guard proceeded to assault him as his son watched through the car window. Witnessing the incident caused M. to have an “autistic attack” in which he kicked the door until it broke.