(AKA: Burech Mordechai Lebovitz, Baruch Mordechai Lebovitz, Baruch Lebovits)
This page is dedicated to the memory of Motty Borger
THIS PAGE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Table of Contents
- Tears in Brooklyn for suicide-plunge groom (11/09/2009)
- In Memory of Mordechai (Motty) Borger (11/13/2009)
- The life and death of Motty Borger (11/15/2009)
- Suicide groom twist: Bared molest to wife (11/15/2009)
- Suicide newlywed 'was sex-abused'(11/19/2009)
- Suicide groom's anguish (01/10/2010)
- Dark Secrets: The Death of Motty Borger (01/22/2010)
- Newscast regarding Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz in the death of Motty Borger, the son of Shmuel Borger (01/26/2010)
- Brooklyn: Tear Down the Walls of Silence (02/19/2010)
- Brooklyn man testifies Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz molested him as teenager (03/03/2010)
- Rabbi’s sexual abuse trial opens (03/04/2010)
- Rabbi on trial for 'teen sex' (03/04/2010)
- US rabbi charged with sexually abusing teen (03/05/2010)
- Rabbi Baruch Lebovits convicted of sex abuse (03/08/2010)
- Brooklyn Rabbi Baruch Lebovits convicted in sex assault on boy, faces decades behind bars (03/09/2010)
- CALL TO ACTION: Write Letters to Judge Patricia M. Di Mango Regarding Sentence for "Rabbi" Baruch Mordechai Lebovits (03/14/2010)
- Jewish Religious court ruling forbiding survivor of Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz from testifying against his offender (03/16/2010)
- Outside Hasidic Realm, Rabbi Lebovits Faced New Trend in Sexual Prosecutions (04/12/2010)
- NEWSCAST: Baruch Lebovitz sentenced to 32 year (08/28/2010)
- Religious figures toppled by allegations toppled by vices (09/26/2010)
- Rabbi's Sentence Overturned on Appeal (04/22/2012)
- Lebovits Abuse Conviction Is Overturned (04/25/2012)
- Abuse Whistleblower Battling Both Haredi Community, DA (01/14/2013)
Tears in Brooklyn for suicide-plunge groom
By Rebecca Rosenberg
New York Post - November 9, 2009
Friends and loved ones bid a tearful farewell yesterday to the groom who jumped from a Brooklyn hotel room window just two days after his wedding.
"You know what it is for a father to be at his son's wedding and then to be here," said Shmuel Borger, the father of 24-year-old suicide victim Motty Borger. "This wedding was not in vain. It was not in vain. From sadness will come happiness."
Motty's widow, Mali, arrived on her mother's arm for the ceremony at the Shomrei Hachomos funeral home in Brooklyn.
Borger plunged seven stories from a balcony at the Avenue Plaza Hotel in Borough Park at 6:45 a.m. Thursday. His wife, who had married him at a lavish Williamsburg ceremony two days earlier, was asleep nearby.
He said he replied, "It is what God wanted."
Some refused to believe it was suicide. Rabbi Moishe Mayer Weiss said Borger may have gone onto the balcony for air and gotten disoriented. Sources close to the probe told The Post that there was no way he could have fallen without deliberate action.
In Memory of Mordechai (Motty) Borger z"l
The Awareness Center's Daily Newsletter - November 13, 2009
|Motty Borger z'l|
Motty, was married this past Tuesday night at Ateres Avrohom Hall in Williamsburg. The suicide took place yesterday morning, November 12, on the second day of sheva brachos. Motty was taken to Lutheran Medical Center in extremely serious condition.
The levaya will be held this morning (November 13), shortly after 11 a.m., at Shomrei Hachomos chapels, located at 43rd Street and Ft. Hamilton Parkway in Boro Park.
It is quoted on line that Motty “sang, he danced, he was the happiest kid on the planet,” said a friend who was but one wedding guest among the 500 who attended the reportedly lavish wedding. “The guy was so full of life. He was so happy to marry her,” said another wedding guest.
Motty's father, Rabbi Shmuel Borger, is well known for his kindness and involvement in tzorchei tzibbur. He founded the Amudei Shesh Choir years ago and is a popular videographer.
May the family have a nechama and may we know of no further tzaar.
Umacha Hashem dimah mei’al kol ponim.
Yehi zichro boruch.
Click here to see Motty with his friends____________________________________________________________________________________
Suicide groom twist: Bared molest to wife
By Susan Edelman and Kirsten Fleming
After joyfully singing and dancing at their lavish celebration in Williamsburg on Nov. 3, Motty Borger, 24, bared his secret anguish to his bride, Mali Gutman, the next day -- and the revelation caused a strain, a source close to the family told The Post.
"That entire day he discussed it with her. He told her the story of his life, how he felt so awful and he couldn't go near her," the source said. The couple had met just last July, after a matchmaker set them up.
The stunned bride responded, "So, why did you marry me?"
Borger reportedly answered, "You are absolutely right. It was not right of me to get married."
At 6:45 a.m., while Mali slept, Borger climbed a railing outside their seventh-floor room at Avenue Plaza Hotel and leaped, police say. He died hours later at a hospital.
Friends insist that Borger -- described as fun-loving, smiling and cheerful -- wouldn't take his own life.
"I know Motty, and I know he didn't jump. It was an accident," one said. The rabbi who spoke at his funeral called reports of suicide "wickedness."
A security video at the hotel shows him looking "agitated" in an elevator with his wife, cops said.
The city Medical Examiner ruled his death a suicide. The NYPD is investigating the sex-abuse allegations, said a police official.
A source familiar with the tragedy said Borger had confided in close relatives that he was molested while a teen attending a yeshiva, possibly by a rabbi, but they never went to police.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Rosenberg, Liz Sadler and Reuven Blau
Suicide newlywed 'was sex-abused'
A spokeswoman for the NYC medical examiner’s office said the death has been ruled a suicide.
Activists working to expose sex-abuse scandals in Orthodox yeshivot said that a report in the New York Post that Mr Borger had been molested as a yeshivah student was accurate — despite angry comments posted from Mr Borger’s acquaintances. The Post, quoting an unnamed source, said that Mr Borger had told his wife about the abuse after the wedding. He was seen on security video footage in the hotel lift appearing agitated.
On the internet, the story prompted a huge number of comments asking questions about Mr Borger’s private life.
“He is a survivor” of sex abuse, said Vicki Polin, founder of the Awareness Centre, a Baltimore-based coalition. She said that Mr Borger had told his parents about the abuse, but they had not sent him to therapy or gone to the police.
Mr Borger’s father, Shmuel, the founder of Amudei Shaish Boys’ Choir, has posted an audio message on the web lamenting his son’s death after a “magnificent wedding” and noting that “a chosson’s week of sheva broches” turned into seven days of mourning.
He urges people to reach out to friends and family. “Don’t be ashamed to say I’m sorry,” he advises.
Ben Hirsch of the group Survivors for Justice said that while he does not know the truth of Mr Borger’s death, he does know of several suicides as a result of sexual abuse.
“The community’s protection of the abuser can sometimes do more damage than the abuse itself.”
Asher Lipner, vice-president of the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, said that sex-abuse victims can develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A young man who is newly married… it could trigger flashbacks to a time when he last experienced sexual contact, which was abuse,” he said.
He said there was growing pressure on the Orthodox community to publicise sex abuse in yeshivot, adding: “There is an incredible amount of pressure put on someone not to talk about what happened. For over 40 years we’ve had in our community 100 per cent denial that the problem exists. When you have a dirty secret and you cover it up, it grows like a cancer.”
Suicide groom's anguish
By Reuven Blau ad Susan Edelman
New York Post - January 18, 2010
A Brooklyn man who committed suicide two days into his honeymoon had confided to a friend's dad that he was molested by a prominent rabbi now facing charges of sexually abusing other boys.
The friend's father told The Post that Motty Borger, 24, accused ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Baruch Lebovits, 59, whose trial -- on 75 counts of sexual assault involving three boys -- starts Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
Borger's videographer dad, Shmuel, founded the boys choir Amudei Sheish. The Borgers and Lebovits shared strong ties to the Munkatch Hasidic sect. Borger attended the sect's school and summer camp and its synagogue in Borough Park. Lebovits, too, was a regular.
At 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 5, as his wife slept, Borger jumped from the seventh-floor balcony of their room at the Avenue Plaza Hotel, cops said.
Lebovits is accused of repeatedly sodomizing two boys and fondling another, sometimes in his car and even in a mikvah, a ritual bath, in a synagogue, from April 2000 to September 2004.
"It was really well known in the community," said a source close to the probe. "It was no secret."
Dark Secrets: The Death of Motty Borger
PIX NEWS - January 22, 2010
Many believe that Motty Borger was molested by Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz.
Case of Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz in the death of Motty Borger, the son of Shmuel Borger
PIX News - January 26, 2010
Newscast of the case of Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz in the death of Motty Borger, who was the son of Shmuel Borger (PIX News). This news report also features Rabbi Nochem Rosenberg (member of The Awareness Center's international advisory board), Joseph Diangelo and Joel Engleman.
Brooklyn man testifies Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz molested him as teenager
New York Daily News - March 03, 2010
|Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz|
Supporters of Rabbi Baruch Lebovits packed the courtroom as the accuser took the witness stand to describe a series of assaults in a car between 2004 and 2005.
"Did he say anything?" Assistant District Attorney Miss Gregory asked.
"He said something but I don't remember," murmured the young man, dressed in jeans, white shirt, tie and a yarmulke on shoulder-length black scraggly hair.
"How did you feel?" Gregory asked of the alleged attacks.
"Very uncomfortable and confused," he said.
He sat less than 20 feet from Lebovits, 59, who was surrounded by supporters.
The rabbi, who owns a Borough Park travel agency, faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of a criminal sexual act in the second-degree.
He's also awaiting trial on charges of molesting two others.
The man accusing him yesterday admitted he was in rehab for heroin and crack addiction that began after the incidents.
"It's a shame to talk about it and I have low self-esteem," he said, explaining to jurors why he didn't lodge charges until he'd left the Hasidic community.
Lebovits' lawyer hammered him in opening statements, calling him a con man with a history of drugs, crime and missed court dates.
"You're going to be sold a bill of goods," lawyer Arthur Aidala said, claiming the accuser intends to sue his client. "This is a con man that's going to take the stand.
"There's no video, there's no eyewitness, no DNA, there's no fingerprints... That evidence doesn't exist because all these acts Miss Gregory described didn't happen."
By Alex Ginsberg
New York Post - March 4, 2010
A Brooklyn rabbi allegedly lured an unsuspecting teen into his car by letting him drive, then repeatedly sexually abused him over a 10-month period in 2004 and 2005, the young man testified yesterday.
"He opened up my zipper," the teen, now 22, told a Brooklyn Supreme Court jury.
"He took out my penis. He put his mouth on it."
A lawyer for the accused man, Baruch Lebovits, 58, told jurors the victim had concocted the story in the hopes of filing a lawsuit and collecting big.
"You're going to be sold a bill of goods," said defense lawyer Arthur Aidala.
"There's a con man who's going to take the stand."
The alleged victim told jurors he waited roughly four years before telling anyone what happened because of the taboo against discussing sexual abuse in the Hasidic community.
"In our community, we never talk about this stuff," he said.
Rabbi’s sexual abuse trial opens
JTA - March 4, 2010
The alleged victim took the stand as the sexual molestation case against a rabbi began in a New York courtroom.
Rabbi Baruch Lebovits, 59, who owns a travel agency in Borough Park, is accused of sexually molesting a Jewish teenager in 2004 and 2005. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of a criminal sexual act in the second degree.
The alleged victim, now 22, testified Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court that the rabbi assaulted him in his car several times over a 10-month period, luring him into the vehicle with promises that he could drive, the New York Daily News reported.
He is no longer a part of the Chasidic community and has been treated for drug addictions that began after the alleged assaults, the paper said.
Lebovits' lawyer in opening statements called the alleged victim a "con man."
Lebovits is awaiting trial on charges of molesting two others, according to the Daily News.
US rabbi charged with sexually abusing teen
YNET - March 4, 2010
Rabbi Baruch Lebovits indicted for sexually assaulting Brooklyn teenager five years ago. Complainant says reason for his delay in reporting abuse due to closed-off nature of community
The Jewish community in Brooklyn is ablaze following an indictment filed against a rabbi charged with sexually assaulting teenagers. A 22-year-old man testified in court for the first time Wednesday and said that the rabbi lured him into his car where he sexually assaulted him when he was a teenager, the New York Daily News has reported.
Rabbi Baruch Lebovits, 59, has been charged with sexual assault following a line of incidents which allegedly occurred in 2004 and 2005. The prosecution claims that Lebovits assaulted the man on several occasions.
Asked whether the rabbi said anything during the attack the young man, who appeared distressed, replied "He said something but I don't remember." Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango repeatedly asked him to speak up. Asked how he was feeling the young man replied, "Very uncomfortable and confused."
The man said that the rabbi's abuse had ruined his life describing the development of his drug addiction from which he eventually recovered.
"It's a shame to talk about it and I have low self-esteem," he said when asked why it took him six years to file a complaint. He noted that such things were not talked of in his community.
The rabbi's attorney, Arthur Aidala, described the complainant as a "con man" with a history of drug offences.
"There's no video, there's no eyewitness, no DNA, there's no fingerprints... That evidence doesn't exist because all these acts didn't happen," he said.
The defendant who owns a travel agency in Brooklyn is slated to be indicted for sexually abusing two other teens. If convicted, the maximum sentence he could face is seven years in prison.
Rabbi Baruch Lebovits convicted of sex abuse
By ALEX GINSBERG
New York Post - March 8, 2010
A Brooklyn jury today convicted an orthodox rabbi of repeatedly sexually abusing a 16-year-old classmate of his son.
The panel of 10 women and two men deliberated less than half a day before finding the rabbi, Baruch Lebovits, 58, guilty of eight counts of sexual abuse.
The jury acquitted him of two counts.
"Justice was served," said the father of the abused boy, whose name is being withheld by The Post.
The teen said the rabbi lured him into his car by offering to let him drive, then unzipped his fly and performed oral sex on him.
Lebovits had no reaction as the jury forewoman read the verdict, but sniffles and gasps were heard from the roughly 30 assembled friends and relatives.
Justice Patricia DiMango ordered the rabbi remanded pending sentence. He faces up to 32 years behind bars.
"I understand that there are a significant number of Jewish holidays coming up, and I am sorry," she said.
The two not-guilty verdicts applied to charges during the summer months of 2004, when testimony showed that the victim was at an upstate camp with limited ability to visit Brooklyn.
"We’re extremely disappointed," said lawyer Arthur Aidala. "We were hoping that the jury was going to see things differently...Mr. Lebovits still maintains his innocence."
Brooklyn Rabbi Baruch Lebovits convicted in sex assault on boy, faces decades behind bars
BY Scott Shifrel
New York Daily News - March 9th 2010
A Brooklyn rabbi faces decades behind bars - and sentencing on the eve of Passover - after a jury quickly convicted him of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
Rabbi Baruch Lebovits showed no reaction as Brooklyn Supreme Court jurors found him guilty on eight of 10 counts after three hours of deliberations.
"Thank God, justice is served," the victim's father said in the packed courtroom as Lebovits family members wiped tears from their eyes.
"This makes a statement to the Jewish community," said Beth Kaplan of the group Sacred Lives, one of several advocates who sat through the week-long trial.
"There is denial. The majority of the Orthodox community doesn't believe this can happen. Here we see it can happen."
Prosecutor Miss Gregory had told jurors that Lebovits, 59, lured his son's friend, who was 16 at the time, into a car with a promise of driving lessons in 2004 and 2005. The young man testified that Lebovits would have him pull over and then perform a sex act on him.
There was no physical evidence and the accuser was a recovering drug addict and a thief - points defense lawyer Arthur Aidala hammered home.
He claimed the victim was trying to shake down Lebovits, who owned a Borough Park travel agency - and said a detective withheld a document showing the victim had talked about being paid off.
Lebovits, who still faces charges he molested two other minors, could get up to four years on each count.
Jewish Religious court ruling forbiding survivor of Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz from testifying against his offender
Failed Messiah Blog - March 16, 2010
PSAK DIN - JUDGEMENTIn the matter of the dispute-matter between the sides, that is Mr. ____ Side A the plaintiff, and between Rabbi Berl Ashkenazy shlit”a (should merit to long good years??) the defendant, side B, after the (sides) disputants agreed to heed the judgment of the dayan signed below, and after listening to the arguments and counter arguments of both sides, and after sorting out the facts and the halacha (Jewish law) ,the following ruling went out.
A. There is no obligation from side B to side A.
B. In contrast to this, it is forbidden for the young man (bochur) _____ to inform on side B (Rabbi Ashkenazy) to the courts (because) [that] he (talked on his heart) [tried to persuade him] that he should leave the courts, which is according to their laws a grave crime, and there is an obligation on side A to do whatever is in his ability to deter the above mentioned young man from this (mesirah) [informing].
C. Side B accepted on himself of his free will that he is prepared to help the above mentioned young man with whatever is in his ability to encourage him to go in good ways, however he will begin with him after the above mentioned young man will remove himself altogether from the courts of the goyim also in other matters.
And there are no more arguments and counter arguments between the sides, only peace to us and to all Israel.
And on this I applied my signature in the 9th day of Shevat 5769
Says Israel Meir Makovetzky, Dayan
Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
Brooklyn — As the Vatican struggles with fresh headlines on scandals of child sex abuse, the Jewish communities throughout the world have been embroiled in a similar plague. In the last year, Brooklyn’s State Supreme Court has issued an increasing number of subpoenas to members of the Jewish Orthodox community in relation to child sexual abuse cases. Until recently, most of these cases were handled for the community by the community and entirely within the community.
The increase in the number of cases reported to the secular justice system by members of this particularly closed group is the result of a long process: bridges built between secular and religious judicial authorities in Brooklyn, and a strong collaboration between Jewish organizations and the District Attorney’s office through the project Kol Tzedek, Hebrew for “Voice of Justice.” The program has now reached its first year milestone.
* * *
He could spend the rest of his life in jail, but he remained silent during the four days of his trial. Baruch Mordechai Lebovits is a corpulent 59-year-old rabbi from Borough Park, in Brooklyn. On March 8, 2010, the day his verdict was to be announced, he arrived in the Kings County State Supreme Court striding behind his two lawyers, his face looking down to avoid the stares of a dozen bystanders outside Ceremonial courtroom No. 1.
Lebovits was followed by five of his relatives and friends. Slowly, more and more of the rabbi’s supporters quietly entered the courtroom and congregated in the benches behind the accused. Soon, two thirds of the seats would be filled with members of the Borough Park Jewish Orthodox community. Interviews with some of these men and women revealed their complete rejection of the charges: that Lebovits molested one of his 16-year-old students in 2004. His supporters were equally unconvinced by the multiple counts of child sexual assault for which Lebovits has yet to be tried. By the end of this year, Lebovits will be judged for allegedly abusing two other children.
Seated 30 feet away from his molester on the other side of the room, the plaintiff Yoav Schonberg, now 22, was surrounded by his father, a few friends, and Kal Holczler, who claims to have been molested by his own rabbi when he was a teenager. Schonberg was the prosecution’s primary witness against Lebovits. He was timid, obviously at odds with himself, and Justice Patricia DiMango had to ask him several times to speak up during his testimony. Speaking haltingly in a frail voice, Schonberg explained to the court that on May 2, 2004, Rabbi Lebovits offered him a free driving lesson. After a few minutes, Schonberg said, Lebovits instructed him to pull the car over, at which point the rabbi unzipped the young boy’s pants and began performing oral sex. According to the Assistant District Attorney Miss Gregory, the same thing happened to Yoav Schonberg, who was 16 back then, nine more times, until February 22, 2005. “It happened many many more times, but my son wasn’t able to remember the specific dates so it is not valid for the prosecution,” explained Yaakov Schonberg, the plaintiff’s father.
When the verdict was handed down, Lebovits did not move. He did not grimace; he did not sigh almost as if he had expected it, despite his “innocent” plea. Among his supporters, though, a few wiped tears from their cheeks and gasped for breath. Many started making calls as soon as they left the courtroom, to keep the rest of the community updated. The jury found the rabbi who is also a teacher at the Munkatch yeshiva (religious school) and the owner of a travel agency in Borough Park guilty of eight of the ten counts in the indictment. The sentence will be read today. For these charges alone, Lebovits faces up to 32 years in prison, four years for each count on which he was convicted. But at least two more trials await the rabbi this year. One of his alleged victims was 16-years-old and the other was 15 at the time the assaults are said to have occurred. “In the community, I’ve spoken to dozens of families who say their children were molested by this man. Dozens! The problem is that half of them don’t want to let it be known, and the other half can’t do anything about it because it’s too late,” explained Yaakov Schonberg, in reference to the five-year statute of limitations that make it impossible for victims to file a lawsuit after they turn 23.
* * *
Brooklyn is home to over 300,000 Orthodox Jews – mainly in Williamsburg, Flatbush, Crown Heights and Borough Park — but for decades, prosecutors very rarely tackled alleged child molesters in this community. According to an October 14, 2009 article by Paul Vitello in the New York Times, “of some 700 child abuse cases brought in an average year, few involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Some years, there were one or two arrests, or none.”
In the past year, however, according to the Kings County D.A.’s office, 30 members of this community in Brooklyn have been prosecuted for child sexual abuse. Among those 30 prosecutions, half were for misdemeanor offenses, half for felony crimes.
This sudden breakthrough in the ability of the secular judicial system to prosecute sex crimes within this tight-lipped community has been facilitated by Kol Tzedek, the program that Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes launched a year ago. Its goal was to build a dialogue between secular law enforcement agencies and Orthodox Jews as well as within the community itself.
Kol Tzedek includes a hotline for victims to report abuse and receive psychological support anonymously until they are ready to go to court. The program also has a prevention component, operated with the help of three Jewish social organizations – the Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.
“It is a very scary issue,” said Dr. Hindie Klein, the psychotherapist who runs Ohel’s Tikvah Mental Health clinic in Borough Park in which several victims of sexual abuse have been treated. Klein is also in charge of Kol Tzedek at Ohel. This social services organization specializes in Jewish communities, provides help in several fields job search, poverty, mental health, foster care, etc, and last year, it celebrated its 40th year of existence. “Many members of the community don’t even know what is and what isn’t considered sexual assault!” Klein explained. “It’s Sabbath, the whole family gets together, and then you notice that this uncle or this neighbor has been playing a lot with your kid, taking him on his lap, touching him affectionately … Where is the line? Sometimes it’s nothing, and sometimes it’s worrying. The first thing that people lack in this community is definitely knowledge on this matter,” she pointed out, stressing each one of her words with both her hands. “But even then,” added Derek Saker, Ohel’s spokesman, who was sitting next to Hindie Klein, “once they know their children have been molested, families won’t always have the right reaction. There’s the fear of the stigma, enhanced by the fact that this is a very close-knit and modest community that we are talking about.”
According to Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an activist who works in Williamsburg to prevent the sexual abuse of children, “If a kid comes home and tells his parents that one of his teachers or his rabbi touched his private parts, parents will have one of these two reactions: they will either slap him in the face and ground him for lying and being immodest, or they will tell him that it was nothing and that he should forget about it.” The general disbelief and/or denial was also noted by Shoshannah Frydman who is in charge of the project Kol Tzedek at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a social services agency operating in New York City. “In any community, it is a topic that people refuse to face, and in an insular community, as is the Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn, of course, these things tend to be hidden under the carpet even more. They have a different understanding of child protection and criminal justice.” Frydman also said that there was an important lack of information on sexual abuse itself. “People think that if their children were abused, it is going to influence their whole sexuality, or create problems when it comes to finding a wife or a husband.”
An indication of the resistance within the Orthodox community to bringing child molesters to justice can be found in posts from blogger Yerachmiel Lopin, who writes about child molestation in Brooklyn: “A source in Boro Park tells me that [a flyer calling for witnesses to testify against Lebovits and to contact Miss Gregory at the D.A.’s office] was strewn all over his neighborhood on Shabbat morning on November 21, 2009. By noon the flyers had all been removed. … It is striking that this secret activity is being undertaken. One would have thought that given the many children he may have molested the community leadership could easily assure the necessary roster of witnesses.”
“We can’t let things be handled by the community. Our only way out is to turn to secular justice,” insisted Victoria Polin, the social worker who founded the Awareness Center, based in Baltimore, MD. This international organization has been fighting child sexual abuse for eleven years in Jewish communities throughout the world by means of prevention programs and information workshops. Polin’s Awareness Center also helps survivors deal with the consequences of having been sexually assaulted. “So many children end up committing suicide, or falling into drugs… They can end up having very serious health problems because some were abused when they were very young and they had their insides torn; girls can have long-term gynecological issues; others will refuse to go to the dentist during their entire lives because of the trauma of having somebody else put something in their mouth,” Polin said.
In Williamsburg, on November 5, 2009, several newspapers reported that Motty Borger, 24, committed suicide, two days after his wedding. As his new wife was asleep, at 6:45 a.m., Borger jumped from his seventh floor room at the Avenue Plaza hotel. Although no suicide note was found, friends of Borger’s told reporters that, a few days before Borger killed himself, he had confided to his father-in-law and to his wife that Rabbi Lebovits had sodomized him.
“My son hasn’t killed himself,” said Yaakov Schonberg, the father of the abused boy in Lebovits’ trial. “But he spent four years navigating between crack and cocaine addiction, he was unable to get a job, he started stealing money from synagogues to finance his addiction… and of course he was arrested several times for stealing that money. It’s a vicious cycle!” In 2008, Yoav was sent to a rehab center in Los Angeles, CA, but he only stayed there for one month. Since then, even though he still wears his black velvet kippah, and considers himself a Jew, Yoav Schonberg says he has left the Hareidi world: he no longer goes to the synagogue to pray, he shaves his beard regularly and has stopped wearing his hair side curls. His father still has the side curls and follows the dress code of the Munkatch Orthodox sect, but he has also partially withdrawn from its strict rules: “I am under no rabbi. No rabbi tells me what to do now,” Yaakov Schonberg said.
This trend is not specific to the Jewish Orthodox communities, according to Victoria Polin, the Awareness Center founder. “When something this tragic happens, of course, victims will lose trust in their community, and that is why it is so important that secular authorities be there for survivors. Otherwise, they will feel like they have nobody to turn to,” Polin insisted.
* * *
District Attorney Hynes, who has spent his whole career in Brooklyn, is used to dealing with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community. Several times in the past ten years, advocates for victims of sexual abuse have accused Hynes of seeking peace in his jurisdiction by turning a blind eye to the community’s practice of funneling abuse cases through religious tribunals and shutting out secular justice authorities. “But the real problem,” said Jerry Schmetterer, spokesman for the Brooklyn D.A., “was that they just didn’t trust us. We really feel it’s working well now. The fact that the program Kol Tzedek is anonymous is what really made the difference.”
Dr. Hindie Klein who, as the director of a mental health clinic, has received “many anonymous calls from frightened parents looking for information,” said that the reason why it is so difficult for a family to talk to secular authorities is that they don’t know what consequences their call will have. “Will everything break out publicly? Will their family be outcast for something that could possibly have been nothing? They need to know that their call will have no consequences unless they decide otherwise.” According to Klein, as well, total anonymity and privacy is what Kol Tzedek’s strength depends on.
Every Orthodox Jewish community has religious tribunals, composed of three, or sometimes four rabbis. These rabbinical courts, called “Bet Din,” Hebrew for “House of Judgment,” are intended to settle every disagreement within the community and only rarely choose to report cases to secular judicial authorities. “It’s a matter of protecting the community,” explained Yaakov Schonberg. “By handling problems yourself, you prevent the others from knowing about those problems and from using them against you.” Breaking the rule and reaching out to secular authorities when there is a problem within the community, according to Schonberg, will get you excommunicated more often than not. Excommunication means that someone will not be allowed in any synagogue of the community, his/her children won’t be accepted in any yeshiva, and shopkeepers will refuse to do business with that person. “The pressure on the family is huge!” added Yaakov Schonberg.
In Lebovits’ case, for instance, the prosecutor presented evidence that pressure had been applied to the victim by a local religious court to persuade him to drop the charges. One of the defense attorneys’ witnesses was Rabbi Berel Ashkenazi, a friend of Lebovits’ who had come to court to testify that the victim was a “con man” as defense lawyer Arthur Aidala described him and that he was not worthy of trust. Ashkenazi, 44 years old and the father of nine children, had also been the plaintiff’s teacher, from October 2003 until June 2004 at Spinka religious school in Borough Park. Assistant D.A. Miss Gregory brought to the trial copies of a letter sent by one of Borough Park’s rabbinical courts to Rabbi Ashkenazi. It stipulated that Ashkenazi, to whom Schonberg had gone for assistance, should offer financial support to Schonberg to treat his drug addiction, and help him to a rehab center “if and only if” he agreed “to drop the case in a non-Jewish court.” This is just one of the many types of pressure a rabbinical court can apply to the community it rules in, if they are suspected of committing “Mesirah,” Hebrew for “informing.”
In the courtroom, after Assistant D.A. Gregory asked him to do so, witness Rabbi Ashkenazi explained what the concept of “Mesirah” meant for the Orthodox community: “A Jewish man is not allowed to go to a secular court against another Jew without the permission of his rabbi,” Ashkenazi explained. Then, Gregory continued: “And could you tell me what happens if someone does not follow that rule? Would that person be stigmatized for not doing so?” After a few seconds of hesitation and stammering, Ashkenazi replied: “If someone doesn’t do so, the rabbi would have to talk to him.” When the questioning was over, the witness swiftly got up from his seat and walked rapidly towards the exit of the courtroom, looking straight ahead, avoiding the stares of the audience.
The plaintiff’s father said he had also been under pressure during the month before the Lebovits’ trial began. “As soon as the date of the trial was officially announced, I received calls from everywhere, even from Israel!” He said people were calling to ask him to drop the case and go to a religious tribunal instead. “But you have to understand, rabbinical courts used to mean something,” Yaakov Schonberg said. “They used to have real authority and real moral superiority in the community. Now it has become a business, a way to make money!” Schonberg explained how thirty years ago, there used to be only one Bet Din in Borough Park and another one in Williamsburg, and how now, there were dozens in each neighborhood. “Now, it’s usually three young rabbis who know very little, fresh from rabbinical school, and they call themselves rabbinical court!” he said, gesticulating vigorously. He paused and added: “They don’t have to be approved by anyone, there is no election, no nomination, no validation whatsoever. They just open an office, put a sign that says “Bet Din,”… and charge each plaintiff $100 an hour!”
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who has for over ten years been strongly encouraging victims to bring sexual offenders before a secular court, said he was now considered an outcast in Brooklyn. He was excommunicated two years ago after he launched a hotline to “teach victims and their relatives how to react when they are confronted with a sexual abuse situation.” “Today, there isn’t one synagogue in this borough that will accept me, even the most liberal ones,” Rosenberg said. “Such pressure has been made on every rabbi in Brooklyn that now I have to go pray in Manhattan, and even there, my rabbi received several calls from leaders in Williamsburg asking him not to let me in anymore. But he answered ‘No one rules in my synagogue but me!”
For Yaakov Schonberg, the fact that sexual crimes in the community are perpetrated by rabbis, teachers and other community leaders is “what’s worst about it. … These people have a very high stature, everybody knows and respects them.” According to Lebovits’ defense attorney Arthur Aidala, Lebovits’ son, Chaïm, is “a multi-millionaire,” who has “businesses all over the world,” a fact that Schonberg uses to describe how powerful Lebovits is, according to him.
“I do not know anything about money pressure or any other kind of pressure,” said Dr. Hindie Klein, the director of Ohel’s Mental Health clinic in Borough Park. “What I do know, and this is the case in every community, not just in the Jewish Orthodox world, is that sexual abusers are generally in a position of authority over the child.” She added: “It can be rabbis, but also teachers, camp leaders, or family members. The thing is that when a rabbi does it, it has a more dramatic resonance, because they represent this moral authority, and they are supposed to know better.”
* * *
One of the big problems judicial authorities face when dealing with the sexual abuse of children in Jewish Orthodox communities lies in defining the extent of it. Looking only at the cases reported to secular authorities, the problem would be almost non-existent. Jewish advocacy groups for sexual abuse victims argue, however, that molestation in the Hareidi community is heavily underreported to secular authorities. According to Victoria Polin, from the Awareness Center, “it is generally considered that 84 percent of child sexual abuse cases are never reported to the police. But in the Jewish Orthodox community, we believe the rate is around 99 percent … And this is an optimistic estimation!”
According to a study issued in 1988 by the National Institute of Mental Health, the typical child sex offender molests an average of 117 children. “There aren’t many sexual abusers in each community,” observed Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. “But even if there’s only one or two in each neighborhood, the problem is that it’s easy for them: they have all the children at their disposal.”
No organization seems to have kept any record or statistics concerning child sex abuse in the Jewish Orthodox community. The Metropolitan Council offered support, long before Kol Tzedek, to sexual abuse victims “but [they] never ever reported the number of calls [they] received on a file or anything. [They] have absolutely no figures concerning the percentage of children being sexually abused in our communities,” explained Shoshannah Frydman, head of Family Services at the Met Council.
Which is why, Dr. Hindie Klein from Ohel said, Kol Tzedek is such a step forward. “They have done a fabulous job at the D.A.’s office, encouraging victims to talk. They are extremely culturally competent and they keep records of the calls. This is going to help evaluate the extent of the problem in depth.”
Both the Met Council and Ohel Children’s Home organize regular meetings and workshops with Jewish Community Council’s directors and other community leaders in schools and synagogues, as well as with social workers throughout Brooklyn. “The aim of these meetings is to give information on what sexual abuse means for a victim, how to handle the trauma, how to identify a sexual offender in the community...,” explained Shoshannah Frydman.
While the Kol Tzedek hotline’s goal is to guide survivors mainly towards a secular legal process, the Met council, Ohel and the Jewish Board focus more on prevention, treatment, awareness, specific training of social workers within the community, outreach and financial support both for sexual abuse victims and for perpetrators. “There are a number of skilled clinicians who are providing treatment to the victims in our Borough Park counseling center,” explained Faye Wilbur, licensed social worker and coordinator of Kol Tzedek for the Jewish Board. “Our therapists are especially trained in working with trauma, and are members of the Orthodox community.” Apart from Kol Tzedek, the Jewish Board has, since 1995, been taking part in another program to fight the sexual molestation of children in Borough Park. Called “Be’ad HaYeled” (Hebrew for “On behalf of the child”), its goal is to “educate the community on the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect,” explained Jo Gonsalves, director of communications for the Jewish Board.
Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services also tried to tackle the issue repeatedly. In the past years, this social agency produced several videos with survivors of child sexual abuse testifying on camera, and appealing to other victims to come forward and search for professional assistance.
Kol Tzedek is the program of which the purpose is specifically to encourage sexual abuse victims to press charges in non-Jewish courts. However, it is not the Brooklyn D.A.’s first attempt to address issues that touch specifically the Jewish Orthodox community, nor is it the first attempt to address specifically the issue of child molestation in that community. A domestic violence program, called Project Eden, and an additional project to fight drug addiction, were launched several years ago. But more importantly, in 1997, Ohel had already partnered with the D.A. to create the Offender Treatment Program. Its aim, as its name clearly suggests, was to treat child sexual abusers who were members of the Orthodox community. But the program is now defunct. According to an article published in 2000 in The Jewish Week, the program treated 16 sexual offenders. Eight had gone through the secular criminal justice system and had been assigned to treatment. The remaining eight were also in treatment, but their cases had been handled by local Bet Dins and had never reached New York criminal courts. After a few months, the program died and it took the Kings County D.A.’s office more than ten years to come up with a new system. “It is essential to have a program that is respectful of the nuances,” explained Faye Wilbur, the counselor and social worker in charge of Kol Tzedek operations for the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. “The program’s partners have staff that speak the language of the community, literally and figuratively.” The importance of this factor in building trust in secular justice was also stressed by Derek Saker, from Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services: “When you’ve been through such a horrendous experience, the last thing you want is to talk to people who do not understand where you come from,” he said.
The Kol Tzedek hotline welcomes callers Hebrew or English. The phone is answered by a full-time licensed social worker specialized in the needs and conventions of the Orthodox community. “Should a caller want to file a prosecution, they will then be taken care of by the team of 18 prosecutors in the Sex Crimes Unit with similar specializations,” said D.A.’s spokesman Schmetterer. “The final goal, of course, is to have them press charges, because it is the only way for us to fight child sexual abuse in the area. But we never push them, we let them go through the process at their own pace. It’s all about building trust.”
* * *
After only one year of existence, Kol Tzedek still has to prove its long run efficacy. Brooklyn D.A.’s spokesman Schmetterer made it clear that “for now, there are no plans to expand the program,” although he acknowledged that “obviously, with more resources, [they] would be able to do more.”
However, at the beginning of March of this year, the state granted the Met Council $500,000 for the purpose of intensifying its prevention program throughout the 25 Jewish Community Councils in New York City, nine of which are located in Brooklyn.
The funds were requested by Brooklyn’s Democratic assemblyman Dov Hikind, and are part of a bigger budget, also allocated in March 2010, and dedicated to abuse awareness and action in other communities. Hikind has made the fight against child molestation in the Jewish Community the signature issue of his term. In fact, it was partly in response to one of his weekly radio shows, in the summer of 2008, that Kol Tzedek was launched a year ago. On his radio program, Hikind several times prompted victims to report to competent secular authorities what had happened to them, and, according to him, he received dozens of private calls from survivors every week.
How the $500,000 will be spent to fight child sexual abuse has yet to be determined. According to the Met Council, most of it should go to prevention and educational programs in Borough Park, the neighborhood which carries the largest Jewish Orthodox community outside of Israel.
“We feel we are getting a lot of support from the local councils, the schools, the synagogues…” noted Shoshannah Frydman, from the Met Council. This observation is shared by most children’s advocates: things are starting to change among members of the Orthodox communities. “We are now facing what the Catholic church faced ten years ago,” said activist Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. “Awareness keeps growing day after day. It’s going to take some time, but we are getting there…,” he added. And for Ohel spokesman Derek Saker as well, the struggle has only just begun: “Curbing this issue is going to take a long, long process, and there still needs a lot to be done tremendously!” confirmed Derek Saker, at Ohel.
Still, “five years ago, if you Googled ‘pedophilia and orthodox Jews’, you would’ve only gotten results for anti-Semitic websites,” noted Victoria Polin, from the Awareness Center. “Now, you get respectable organizations, reliable reports, specialized advocacies, blogs maintained by members of the community itself.” And this transformation was also noticed recently by Yaakov Schonberg, the father of Baruch Lebovits’ young victim: “Two years ago, if I had walked into a synagogue after Lebovits’ “guilty” verdict, everybody would have been very hostile for attacking such a well-respected rabbi. But now, it’s the opposite: I’ve been considered as the winner, I’ve been welcomed as a hero!”
NEWSCAST: Baruch Lebovitz sentenced to 32 year
PIX News - August 28, 2010
WPIX reports on the 32 year sentence for chassidic child molester Baruch Lebovitz
Religious figures toppled by allegations toppled by vices
The Roman Catholic Church
The church has paid more than $2 billion since 1992 to victims of child sexual abuse by priests. A 2004 report prepared for the U.S. Board of Catholic Bishops found "significant and disturbing" evidence that church leaders had failed to effectively deal with the implicated priests. The crisis continues, with new allegations emerging across Europe and questions about actions by Pope Benedict XVI, who, while a cardinal, oversaw the Vatican office dealing with the crisis.
Rabbi Baruch Lebovitz
In a case that shook New York's Orthodox Jewish community, the Brooklyn rabbi received a prison sentence in April after being convicted of molesting a teenager.
The Rev. George Alan Rekers
A Baptist minister, founding member of the Family Research Council and an outspoken opponent of gay adoption, Rekers resigned in May from the board of the National Association for the Therapy and Treatment of Homosexuality after a Miami alternative newspaper published photos of him returning from an overseas trip with a male prostitute. Rekers denied being gay and said he had hired the man through an online ad to help him with his luggage.
The Arkansas evangelist was convicted in 2009 of transporting girls as young as 9 across state lines for sex. Alamo, who is serving a 175-year prison sentence, has said he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Yasser Mohamed Shahade
The Egyptian-born imam was charged in 2009 with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy during a sleepover at a Tampa mosque. He pleaded guilty and was placed on probation pending deportation.
Bishop Earl Paulk
Pastor of the huge, multiracial Chapel Hill Harvester Church in south DeKalb County and known for his progressive social ministry, Paulk fell into disrepute after a series of women accused him in lawsuits of manipulating them into sexual relationships. Paulk pleaded guilty in 2008 to lying under oath after a DNA test showed he fathered a son with his sister-in-law. He died in 2009.
The Rev. Ted Haggard
Pastor of Colorado's largest church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Haggard resigned from both posts in 2006 after acknowledging he had frequented a gay prostitute. He and his co-pastor wife recently founded a new church.
The Rev. Jimmy Swaggart
The pioneering Baton Rouge, La., televangelist admitted in 1988 to hiring a prostitute after being caught at the motel where he arranged the tryst. In a moment of television history, the Assemblies of God minister tearfully told his congregation and wife, "I have sinned against you." He stepped down from his ministry in 1991 after he was caught with another prostitute, but later resumed its leadership.
Sources: U.S. Board of Catholic Bishops, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Observer, Denver Post, St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times, [New Orleans] Times-Picayune.
Lebovits Abuse Conviction Is Overturned
Brooklyn Travel Agent Was Sentenced to 32 Years
By Paul Berger
Forward - April 25, 2012
An appeals court has reversed the child sex abuse conviction of Brooklyn travel agent Baruch Lebovits, who was sentenced in 2010 to up to 32 years in prison.
Alan Dershowitz, chief counsel for Lebovits on appeal, called the unanimous reversal by a four-judge appellate panel a “total victory.”
Lebovits was not acquitted outright but instead had his conviction reversed, which could allow the District Attorney to retry the case. But Dershowitz doubted prosecutors would be able to mount a new case.
“Under the circumstances it will be impossible for the prosecution to successfully retry the case because we now have overwhelming evidence that will require that the case be thrown out,” Dershowitz said on April 25.
Lebovits, who was convicted of eight counts of sexual assault, was the most high-profile conviction secured by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes since the D.A. launched a campaign against child sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community three years ago.
The case against Lebovits, a Boro Park travel agent, began to unravel in April, 2011, when police arrested Samuel Kellner on charges that he paid at least one of Lebovits’ alleged victims $10,000 to falsely testify he had been abused.
Kellner was also charged with trying to extort $400,000 from Lebovits’ family in return for keeping other alleged victims from coming forward.
Hynes stood by the testimony of the one boy who did testify at trial that Levovits had abuded him. That secured Lebovits’ conviction.
Lebovits was released on bail and placed under house arrest pending an appeal, which was argued by Dershowitz earlier this year.
On April 24, a panel of the Supreme Court Of The State Of New York Appellate Division ruled that although prosecutors had sufficient evidence to bring a case against Lebovits, they acted in several ways that prejudiced the trial.
The judges found that prosecutors failed to provide his defense team with a set of notes taken by a New York Police detective that accused the sole defense witness of attempting to bribe the alleged victim in return for retracting his complaint.
The judges also criticized a prosecutor who tried to discredit a defense witness during summation by accusing him of being a child molester. The judges found that this charge “had no basis within the record and was improper.”
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office did not return a call for comment.
This article has been altered from its original version to correct its characterization of the notes taken by a New York police detective regarding the case and at what point in the trial a prosecutor made accusatory statements about a defense witness that the appeals court ruled were unjustified.
By Hella Winston
|Sam Kellner, Michael Dowd and Niall MacGiollabhui.|
Unemployed and facing mounting debt from his lonely fight against both the powers that be in his community and the Brooklyn district attorney, Kellner, 50, was contemplating a Chanukah in darkness: he had pawned the family silver, and the menorah along with it, to free up some cash to pay his attorney.When his wife found out, she was upset, so Kellner trudged back to the silver shop on 13th Avenue to retrieve the menorah.
If anyone could use a miracle, it’s Sam Kellner.
“They took everything from me,” Kellner says. “They’ve killed me on the street, kicked me out of my shul. I have no job, no money, no friends. And the DA is going after me. All because I committed the sin of fighting for my son.”
In 2008, when Kellner reported his teenage son’s alleged molester to the authorities, he knew he would make enemies in his chasidic community, despite having secured permission to do so from rabbis. What he never expected was that one of the people turning against him would be the Brooklyn district attorney.
To hear him tell it, Kellner — whose son reported he had been touched inappropriately by a man named Baruch Lebovits — went from being a valued law enforcement resource to the subject of wrongful perjury, extortion and conspiracy charges, all because he sought redress in the criminal justice system. If convicted, he faces up to 21 years in prison.
Kellner’s case, for which a trial date has not been set, is dizzyingly complex and brings together a number of threads in the ongoing story of child sexual abuse in Orthodox Brooklyn: the conduct of Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes’ office, which has come under great scrutiny of late for its perceived failure to aggressively pursue prosecution of sex abuse cases in the haredi community for fear of losing a key voting bloc; the religious courts that seek to address child molestation within the community; and the workings of the Vaad HaTznius, the communal modesty patrols to whom alleged molesters are often reported.
The case reaches into the highest echelons of chasidic Brooklyn, including the powerful editor of the newspaper Der Yid, and of the legal community; Alan Dershowitz worked on the appeal of Baruch Lebovits, who, in part because of the doggedness of Sam Kellner, was convicted in 2010 on eight counts of sexual abuse (his conviction was overturned on a technicality and a new trial reordered). And now, the Lebovits and Kellner cases have become linked in a legal and moral drama.
Some observers maintain that the climate in the Orthodox community is changing when it comes to reporting sexual abuse to law enforcement, and that Hynes’ office has shed its seeming reluctance to prosecute ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cases rather than settle them with plea deals involving little or no jail time. (The recent conviction of an unlicensed counselor and well-connected member of the Satmar community, Nechemya Weberman, for sexually abusing a teenage girl has been hailed as evidence of Hynes’ new resolve, as has his arrest not just of four men for witness tampering in the case, but of others who took photographs of the victim at trial).
But Kellner’s case complicates the picture. It and the Lebovits case unfolded before pressure on Hynes’ office intensified to take these cases to trial rather than dispose of them with plea deals. In a strange irony, those who support Kellner believe that it is precisely because the Lebovits case actually went to trial and resulted in a conviction and long prison sentence that Kellner is now under indictment.
As he awaits trial, Kellner, a man who did the right thing — at least by the standards of secular society — by reporting the crime of child molestation to the police, now stands accused of being an alleged criminal, while those who tried to stop him remain unpunished.
“There’s a lot to be investigated here,” Kellner’s attorney, Michael Dowd, told The Jewish Week. “But it’s not Sam Kellner.”
A spokesman for Hynes’ office denied the charge that the Kellner prosecution was politically motivated. The spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, also said no one in the DA’s office would be made available to speak about the case since it is an ongoing investigation.
His black velvet yarmulke slightly askew, Sam Kellner is leaning back in a chair in the lounge at the Brooklyn Marriott, twisting his wiry grey beard. Nearby, young Orthodox couples on “shidduch dates” sip soda from plastic cups.
The significance of the location — the hotel abuts the Brooklyn district attorney’s office — is not lost on Kellner. “That’s where they had me locked up for 14 hours after I was arrested,” he says, pointing out the window.
Kellner’s saga began in early 2008, the day his teenage son disclosed that Baruch Lebovits, 61, a travel agent and cantor from a rich and well-connected family, had given him a ride home the night before and touched him inappropriately in his car.
Furious, Kellner wanted to file a police report, but would not do so without first securing the permission of a rabbi. So he sought — and received — approval from Rabbi Chaim Flohr, a highly regarded rabbi who presides over a religious court in Monsey. In consultation with the Vaad HaTznius in Borough Park, Rabbi Flohr established that there were credible accusations against Lebovits going back years.
Nervous to report on his own, Kellner contacted the Williamsburg Vaad HaTznius, which he was told had a good relationship with the Brooklyn DA’s office. (Attempts to reach members of the Vaad by phone were unsuccessful.) Kellner says they put him in touch with an attorney, Asher White. (An e-mail to White was not returned.) White’s wife Henna is the DA’s liaison to the Jewish community. She also heads his office’s Kol Tzedek hotline, established in April of 2009 to encourage haredi victims of sexual abuse to report these crimes to the authorities.
After speaking with Kellner, Asher White took him to Henna’s office.
Kellner recalls the meeting. “Henna told me, ‘Sam, are you going to go all the way with this? I will take you to an ADA [assistant district attorney], but don’t screw me. We’ve had problems with [haredi] witnesses dropping out.’ And I told her, ‘Henna, I am going all the way.’”
An ADA interviewed the boy and determined the alleged abuse was a misdemeanor. Because of that, along with Lebovits’ age, clean record, and the lack of additional victims, the DA’s office wouldn’t pursue the case.
Kellner was crushed. But on the advice of Henna White, he reached out to then-sex crimes detective Steve Litwin.
Litwin interviewed the boy and concurred with the ADA. But he offered a way forward: based on his experience, Litwin believed that Lebovits was a serial offender. If Kellner could find and encourage other victims to report, they would have a better chance of bringing a case. It was the beginning of a working relationship that would last several years.
‘People Were Coming After Me On The Street’
“At first I tell him, ‘Steve, you’re the detective, how is it I should find victims?’” Kellner recalled.
But Kellner mulled the idea and hit the streets. His first stop was the Williamsburg Vaad to obtain the name of another boy who had made credible allegations against Lebovits. The Vaad directed Kellner to a young man, Yoel (not his real name), who told Kellner he had been molested by Lebovits. Kellner asked Yoel if he wanted to go to the police, and when the young man said yes, Kellner secured rabbinic approval from Rabbi Shraga Hager, a chasidic leader.
Police records indicate that Yoel was interviewed by Litwin, the sex-crimes detective, on March 6, 2008 and disclosed multiple incidents of being sodomized by Lebovits, starting when he was 12. The acts alleged included felonies.
On March 11, 2008 Lebovits was arrested. He was indicted on the grand jury testimony of Kellner’s son and Yoel. The two cases were severed and Kellner worried his son’s misdemeanor case might be prosecuted first, forcing the teenager to take the stand, something Kellner hoped to avoid. If Lebovits were tried and convicted on a felony first, Kellner reasoned, the DA was unlikely to subsequently pursue a misdemeanor charge. Kellner also worried that the DA might not go forward with Yoel’s case, given the young man’s tenuous emotional state. (Yoel was so damaged emotionally he was often unable to meet his basic needs and Kellner says he occasionally bought the young man food; Litwin also took him out for meals, according to law enforcement materials.)
So, Kellner obtained permission from the Borough Park Vaad to track down yet another victim, Zev (not his real name), whose information Kellner obtained from Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s office. Hikind received calls from hundreds of sex abuse survivors after he did a series of radio shows on the issue in 2008.
Kellner approached Zev, who disclosed that he, too, was a Lebovits victim, and struggling with drug addiction. Kellner got rabbinic approval for Zev, who then made a report to Litwin on Sept.16, 2008; his allegations were also felonies.
Zev and Yoel went to the grand jury in November 2008.
By then, Kellner was experiencing severe harassment in his community for “informing” on Lebovits. Many people accused him of fabricating the allegations for money.
“People were screaming at me, coming after me on the street, blowing out my tires,” Kellner says. “I was kicked out from my shul, my kids kicked out of school, nobody would hire me.”
Kellner says a variety of people in the community, including rabbis, began transmitting monetary offers to him to drop the case. He rejected all of them. He then got pressured to withdraw the charges and go to the beit din, or religious court.
Kellner was summoned to, but did not attend, a beit din in Monsey. Then, Kellner says, Yisroel Makavetzky, who has a beit din in upstate Monroe, demanded Kellner adjudicate his son’s case against Lebovits there. (Makavetzky had already issued rulings forbidding Kellner and Zev from pursuing justice in criminal court.) Kellner agreed to go to beit din, but made it clear he would not drop the criminal charges. He also insisted that Rabbi Flohr and attorney Michael Dowd be present (the latter to ensure everything would be done in accordance with secular law), and that his beit din legal expenses and fees be paid.
According to Kellner, a chasidic businessman got involved, promising to pay Kellner’s beit din fees. He also told Kellner that if he dropped the criminal case and the beit din found in his favor, he could receive up to $400,000 in damages. Kellner told the businessman he wasn’t interested: Rabbi Flohr had given him permission to go to the police, and he wasn’t dropping the criminal charges. And if he did go to the beit din and won, Kellner said he would accept only funds to cover treatment for his son — estimated at $30,000 by a rabbi who does medical referrals for the community.
Ultimately, Kellner’s conditions were rejected and the beit din never convened, though Kellner was billed $1,800 for its consultation work “in the matter between Shlomo Aaron Kellner and the Lebovits family related to damages to his son.” When Kellner approached the businessman to honor his agreement to pay the bill, the man sent him to Lebovits’ son, Meyer; the businessman told Kellner he had been fronting for Meyer all along.
Kellner approached Meyer and began the conversation by telling him that his only complaint against him was the unpaid beit din-related fees. Meyer then castigated Kellner for going to the police instead of coming to him, accusing Kellner of ruining his reputation. A wide-ranging conversation ensued that touched on the abortive beit din, the criminal cases against Baruch Lebovits (and specifically Kellner’s wish to see Lebovits take a plea in Kellner’s son’s case) and other attempts to get Kellner to drop the charges.
Unbeknownst to Kellner, Meyer was recording the conversation.
More Payoff Offers
Kellner says he also got a payoff offer from Moshe Friedman, a cousin of Baruch Lebovits. Friedman, also known as Moshe Gabbai, is a longtime power broker in the Satmar community, going back to when he was the personal secretary (or gabbai, hence the nickname) of the previous Satmar rebbe, Moshe Teitelbaum. He is also the editor of the main Satmar newspaper, Der Yid. An article in an Israeli paper noted that Friedman has “many senators and politicians flocking to his door throughout the year, especially before elections.”
Kellner says Friedman contacted him in 2009 with a job offer selling advertising for Der Yid. Kellner, who had worked selling toner cartridges and paper goods, began making calls on the paper’s behalf. During that time, Friedman ordered Kellner to drop his criminal case. Kellner refused. Friedman came back with an offer: “the family” had had a meeting and was prepared to fine Baruch Lebovits $250,000 as an “apology” to Kellner if he dropped the charges. Kellner rejected the offer and quit.
“My son is not a prostitute,” Kellner says. “There is not a price in this world that is going to justify [what Lebovits did].”
Kellner informed Detective Litwin — with whom he was working closely — about attempts to buy him off. He says he also met with sex crimes Bureau Chief Rhonnie Jaus and assistant district attorneys Miss Gregory and Chris LaLine about the witness tampering and intimidation.
Reached by phone Litwin declined to speak with The Jewish Week.
“I tell them, ‘You don’t know what’s going on on the street. Rhonnie, they’re offering money,” Kellner recalls. “We’re going to lose every witness. I’ll wear a wire.’” But Kellner says the office never took him up on it. “From that meeting on,” Kellner continues, “she ‘[wouldn’t take] my [calls].”
A spokesman for the DA’s office told The Jewish Week that Jaus was not at liberty to comment on a pending case.
There were also attempts to pay Zev to drop his charges, some documented in Litwin’s notes (one came from a man named Beryl Ashkenazi). Kellner feared that, needing money for drugs, Zev would succumb to temptation and take a payoff. With Kellner’s encouragement, Zev held firm.
In February 2010, Lebovits went to trial in Zev’s case. Yoel’s case had been scheduled to go first but he abruptly stopped communicating with prosecutors and transmitted his refusal to cooperate through an apparently newly retained attorney.
Lebovits’ defense argued that Zev had fabricated the allegations in order to extort money from the Lebovits family. The jury didn’t buy it, and Lebovits was convicted on March 8, 2010.
Before sentencing, Lebovits’ lawyer brought in a new witness who claimed Zev had told him he had fabricated his allegations in order to get money. The judge, Patricia DiMango, expressed skepticism about this 11th hour revelation and ultimately found the allegation without merit. She sentenced Lebovits to 10 2/3 to 32 years in jail on the eight sex abuse charges.
The sentence sent shockwaves through the chasidic community, where no one convicted of this kind of crime had ever faced such a stiff sentence (Jerry Brauner, convicted on sex-abuse charges in 2002, was sentenced to 11 years probation). Lebovits’ lawyers vowed to appeal.
Kellner Arrested: ‘It’s Mind-Boggling’
About a year later, on April 12, 2011, Sam Kellner was arrested. The arrest came as a shock, as did the charges, whose substance he learned only after he had been bussed to and from Rikers and done a perp walk in front of assembled media the next day, when Hynes held a press conference. By that time, Kellner had already been indicted, charged with extortion, perjury and conspiracy.
The following day, an appellate judge ordered Lebovits released from prison on house arrest on $250,000 bail pending the appeal of his conviction.
Kellner was charged — along with five unindicted co-conspirators — with attempting to extort money with a promise that, if paid, Kellner would get the complaining witnesses not to testify and prevent a third victim from coming forward (the indictment also charges Kellner with threatening to bring a fourth victim).
The case is being handled by the Rackets Bureau, headed by Michael Vecchione.
While not named in the indictment, it is clear from the grand jury minutes that the co-conspirators are: Leizer Wolf Hager; Yidel Wolf of the Borough Park Vaad; Wolf Wertzberger; Yakov Leizer Horowitz, an anti-informing activist who had harassed Kellner; and Simon Taub — all of whom Kellner allegedly sent as messengers to get money from Meyer Lebovits. All of these men’s names were mentioned in the tape-recorded conversation between Meyer Lebovits and Kellner and in Meyer Lebovits’ grand jury testimony. (Taub was arrested in July 2010 — and later pleaded guilty —for attempting to extort money from Meyer, who had allegedly molested Taub’s son.)
Kellner was also charged with using Moshe Friedman, the editor of Der Yid, to convey his demand to Meyer Lebovits for a monetary payment in return for a guarantee that Kellner would stop the complaining witnesses — whom he allegedly controlled — from testifying.
Additionally, Kellner was charged with paying Yoel to lie before a grand jury and falsely accuse Lebovits of molesting him.
The only people to testify at Kellner’s grand jury were Meyer Lebovits, Moshe Friedman and Yoel. In his testimony, Friedman alleges that Kellner came to him, “That I should convince Lebovits’ family that they should give him [the] $250,000.”
“It’s mind-boggling,” Kellner says of the charges. “All these people offering payoffs, and I’m telling this all along to Detective Litwin, and now I’m the extortionist?”
The DA’s Case Against Kellner
Indeed, the timing, quality and sources of the DA’s evidence against Kellner all raise questions about the legitimacy of the charges, say observers, as does evidence in the DA’s possession that is favorable to Kellner.
The conspiracy charges were brought to the DA by Meyer Lebovits in May 2010 — after the guilty verdict in his father’s case. They are based on Meyer’s statements and the 2009 tape-recorded conversation between Meyer and Kellner, which occurred almost a year before Lebovits’ trial. It is unclear why, given its purported importance as evidence of an extortion plot, the tape was not brought to the attention of law enforcement before the trial.
The DA’s transcript of the tape (in Yiddish with an English translation) was reviewed for The Jewish Week by a native Yiddish speaker. Without context, the meaning of many of the exchanges is ambiguous at best; to someone with knowledge of the back story, it becomes clear that the discussion is not about attempts by Kellner to extort Meyer Lebovits using emissaries, but rather is about the beit din and those involved in it, Kellner’s desire to see Baruch Lebovits plead guilty in his son’s case, and attempts by others to get Kellner to drop the charges. (The reviewer also determined that many of the exchanges critical to the overall meaning of the conversation were distorted in the translation.)
Then there is the matter of the unindicted co-conspirators. Typically, co-conspirators are unindicted because they are cooperating with the government. It is unclear whether the DA interviewed any of these men in connection with the Kellner case (none testified at the grand jury, and two recently claimed they were unaware of their involvement in the case).
The charges that Kellner paid Yoel to lie also seem suspect in light of investigators’ reports and videos in the DA’s possession, as well as information independently obtained by The Jewish Week.
Yoel alleged to a DA investigator six months after Lebovits’ conviction, on Sept. 15, 2010, that Kellner paid him $10,000 in $100 weekly increments to fabricate the charges against Lebovits. Yoel made these allegations about Kellner in the presence of his lawyer, John Lonuzzi, a partner in Lonuzzi and Woodland and a past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association. (The DA apparently declined to charge Yoel for allegedly giving false grand jury testimony). It is not known how Yoel, who had been barely able to take care of himself, was able to secure or afford Lonuzzi’s services.
“If I’m a prosecutor trying to scrutinize the reliability of the information I am now getting, after the trial is over, I would ask, ‘Why didn’t you give this over sooner?,’” Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School and an expert in prosecutorial misconduct, told The Jewish Week. “It doesn’t add up. All of this evidence must be tempered by [each] source’s stake in the case, his motives, his biases.”
The DA also has evidence that suggests Yoel’s allegations against Kellner were made under duress. This includes several video interviews of Zev shot after Lebovits’ conviction by people who claim to be making a movie about Zev’s life. (The Jewish Week has information that this was a ruse.) The interviewers are not seen on camera, though two are referred to throughout as Sholem and Shimon Yosef. They ask Zev questions about his history of abuse and the Lebovits case.
When Zev is asked why Yoel “got out” of the Lebovits case, he replies, “They scared him, they scared him,” clarifying that “they” are the Lebovitses. “They, they terrorized him. You have no idea what they did to him.”
Zev also claims “they” got Yoel a lawyer and promised him money, which he never got.
Zev’s statements are supported by an interview that a DA investigator conducted with a woman named Natalie B., identified as Yoel’s “best friend,” in May 2012. Natalie told the investigator that Lebovits’ eldest daughter had threatened to produce two witnesses to testify that Yoel had molested them as children if he did not drop his case against her father. She also told the investigator that Yoel fled to Israel “out of fear” seven months prior.
It is not known whether the DA has ever questioned members of the Lebovits family about this alleged intimidation of Yoel, but given all this — and the fact that Litwin, the DA and two grand juries clearly found Yoel’s allegations against Baruch Lebovits credible — it is difficult to understand why the DA so uncritically accepted Yoel’s claims of being paid to lie by Kellner.
In addition, The Jewish Week has independent confirmation that Kellner obtained Yoel’s name from the Vaad, to whom Yoel had reported being abused by Lebovits prior to ever meeting Kellner. This negates the charge that Kellner paid Yoel to fabricate his abuse claim.
As for the video interviews of Zev, it appears they too were part of an effort to generate evidence of an extortion plot against the Lebovits family after Lebovits’ conviction. Chaim Levin, an abuse survivor and victims’ advocate, told The Jewish Week he learned that one of the people behind the video was a man named Sholem Weisner (presumably the Sholem referred to on the tape). Levin says he met Weisner at a gathering on the Upper West Side in March of 2011, where Weisner bragged he had recently taken Zev to Florida, bugged the house with expensive recording equipment and “made sure Zev was good and high” before interviewing him in order to get evidence that “they could take to the DA” to clear Lebovits. Levin — who knows another alleged Lebovits victim — says he was horrified.
An attempt to contact Weisner was unsuccessful.
In June 2010, apparently the same Sholem Weisner gave the DA his sworn affidavit stating that Zev told him he had lied for money about being molested by Lebovits and that he had been pressured by “powerful people” to make the false allegations. Weisner also told a DA investigator that Lebovits was well known in the community as “a man who liked young men,” but “was not a threat.” (In 2007, Weisner was arrested on felony charges of cheating and first-degree larceny as well as criminal trespass in connection with marking cards at a Connecticut casino.)
The Zev videos, possibly made to support Weisner’s affidavit, in fact contradict it. They are also favorable to Kellner. When asked whether Kellner ever tried to “shut him up,” or offer him money to drop the case, Zev responds, “No … Kellner always told me, Zev, go to court, you’re going to tell the truth, tell the truth.” (Zev also says many people offered his family money to drop the charges.)
‘I’ll Keep Fighting For My Son’
On April 25, 2012, Lebovits’ conviction was overturned by a New York appeals court on an issue unrelated to Kellner. A new trial was ordered.
The DA vowed to retry the case but no trial date has been set.
Meanwhile, Sam Kellner is still waiting to clear his name. In that effort he has found supporters outside his community.
“The whole situation doesn’t make sense,” Rabbi Yosef Blau, the spiritual adviser at the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University, told The Jewish Week. “The idea that major players like Moshe Gabbai would be doing Sam Kellner’s bidding is mind-bogglingly absurd to [anyone familiar with how that community works].”
Some observers fear the charges against Kellner are enough to threaten the possibility of a retrial, not to mention a conviction, of Baruch Lebovits.
“I was devastated by Kellner’s arrest because it cast doubt on Lebovits’ conviction,” the blogger and advocate known as Yerachmiel Lopin told The Jewish Week. “I strongly suspected the evidence against him was fabricated and misrepresented to get Lebovits off the hook.”
Lebovits’ lawyer, Arthur Aidala, declined to comment on the two cases.
Even if Lebovits is retried and convicted, Kellner’s attorney nonetheless believes that the prosecution of his client is politically motivated.
“I believe the DA came under such pressure from [powerful elements] in the community after Lebovits was sentenced that he didn’t want to further alienate them,” Dowd told The Jewish Week. “In order to placate them, the DA agreed to prosecute Sam [based on these incredible stories], even though he knew it could sabotage the case against Lebovits.”
That Hynes’ office has apparently not acted on allegations made to its own investigator that Yoel was intimidated by the Lebovits family, and on information reported to police that other witnesses — including Zev and Kellner himself — were harassed and subjected to multiple instances of witness tampering, lends support to Dowd’s position.
According to Pace Law School’s Gershman, all of this “seems to accord with the perception of how Hynes goes about his prosecution responsibilities, particularly as they relate to certain constituencies he’s worried about losing support from.”
Indeed, a source familiar with the Kellner case told The Jewish Week that “there were serious misgivings about it [within the DA’s office], but they were overruled,” the implication being overruled from on high. This could account for why it took almost a year after Meyer Lebovits came to the DA with information about his tape for the police to arrest Kellner.
According to Dowd, this is “one of the most stunning examples of intimidation by the government I have ever seen.”
But Sam Kellner is clearly not someone to be intimidated.
“I’m a fighter,” he said. “And I will keep fighting for my son.”
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