6/18/13

Paying the Price for Coming Forward

In 2008, Borough Park resident Sam Kellner got permission from an upstate rabbinical court to report to Brooklyn D.A. Charlie Hynes' office that his teenaged son had been sexually molested by Baruch Lebovits, a prominent local cantor and travel agent.

Kellner told prosecutors that Satmar power brokers representing Lebovits had tried to bribe him out of cooperating in the case.

When its investigators decided they didn't have enough evidence to charge a felony, the Brooklyn D.A.'s office nolle prossed the case against Lebovits, who had no prior record.

But because an NYPD detective thought Lebovits might be a serial offender, Kellner went on to identify two other alleged victims, one who said he'd been sodomized by Lebovits starting at age 12.

Lebovits was arrested, and after being tried and convicted in 2010 of 8 counts of molestation, was sentenced to 10 1/2 to 32 years in jail, the toughest sentence ever imposed on anyone in Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox community.

But thanks to his attorney, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, Lebovits has never gone to jail. 

Now Hynes, in a shocking reversal, has indicted Kellner, charging him with trying to extort $400,000 in hush money from Lebovits's family.

The closest thing to a "smoking gun" Hynes's office has is a secretly-taped conversation between Kellner and Baruch Lebovitz's son, Meyer, which New York Times columnist Michael Powell found unconvincing.

Kellner and Meyer Lebovits were speaking Yiddish in that conversation.  According to Jewish Week, which had a native Yiddish speaker review the DA’s transcript of the tape, the conversation was mis-translated.  The conversation, the reviewer said, wasn't about Kellner trying to extort money from Lebovits, as Hynes's office has charged, but about Lebovits trying to bribe Kellner.

Kellner denies ever trying to extort money from Lebovits. 

Meanwhile, Dershowitz has used the new extortion case against Kellner to get Levovits's conviction overturned on a technicality.

The three rabbis who sit on a beit din in Monsey that Powell interviewed see Kellner as a hero who worked through local leaders in Williamsburg and their court to identify other victims of Lebovits, who they said has a known history of molesting children.

But, one of the rabbis told Powell, Lebovits has powerful supporters, and people are afraid of him.
 
Kellner's become a pariah in the ultra-Orthodox commmunity.  His family has been cast out and shunned by their Borough Park synagogue, and no one in the community will hire or do business with him.  He's been reduced to selling the family silver to get by.

If, one of the Monsey rabbis said, Kellner is convicted, no ultra-Orthodox victim of child sexual abuse will come forward again.

The post from Gothamist.

Michael Powell's related New York Times column.

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