By PERVAIZ SHALLWANI (Wall Street Journal)
June 21, 2012
A Brooklyn man has been charged with trying to buy the silence of an alleged sexual-abuse victim and her boyfriend in a criminal case against a beloved counselor in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, authorities said Thursday.
The man's arrest, along with three others accused of witness intimidation, were the first from a Brooklyn District Attorney's Office task force created this year to grapple with the intimidation of sexual-abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community. District Attorney Charles Hynes has been accused of not zealously prosecuting such cases in that community, but he said his office has brought more than 100 cases, even as prosecutors face limited cooperation.
Charges against one of the four defendants, Abraham Rubin, 48 years old, include trying to give the victim $500,000 to leave the U.S. instead of testifying against Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist on trial for allegedly molesting the victim in his home and office from when she was 12 to 15 years old. He was arrested in February 2011.
Three other defendants arrested Thursday—Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger—are accused of trying to pressure the couple into not testifying by threatening to remove a kosher certificate in a restaurant owned and operated by the boyfriend, Mr. Hynes said.
Mr. Weberman's case has caused deep divisions among Williamsburg's Hasidim. Some have rallied behind Mr. Weberman, raising hundred of thousands of dollars for his defense and subjecting the accuser to threats and name calling. Prosecutors said there was no indication that the money raised by the community was used in the alleged bribery scheme.
All four defendants pleaded not guilty Thursday and were released on bail. They have been ordered to not have contact with the alleged victim, now 17, her boyfriend and their families.
They are due back in court Sept. 10.
The Bergers' attorney, Bruce Wenger, said his clients denied the allegations and would be vindicated in court. Mr. Rubin's attorney, Shulamis Peltz, said: "We intend to vigorously contest these charges."
Mr. Weberman, 53, has pleaded not guilty to child sex-abuse. His trial is scheduled to begin in July. Mr. Hynes said the probe recovered no evidence that Mr. Weberman knew of the alleged bribe or intimidation.
In a statement, attorneys for Mr. Weberman said his client had no knowledge of the alleged scheme, and called it "deplorable" and "reprehensible."
Brooklyn is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish populations outside of Israel, with tight-knit neighborhoods including Williamsburg, Borough Park, Midwood and Mill Basin. Mr. Hynes has said that going after sexual predators in the community has been difficult without cooperation from residents.
"It is a coterie of people in the community that are hellbent on intimidating and forcing people to change their mind about cooperation," Mr. Hynes said at a news conference Thursday.
Mr. Hynes said prosecutions in the community can be more difficult than even organized-crime investigations, in which he can at least offer a witness-protection program.
"It's a very insular community," Mr. Hynes said.
"That's not an option for people who live and are part of this culture," he said. "It's unthinkable that someone would be removed from the culture. And those who would intimidate within the community, play on that."
Mr. Hynes led an outreach program that was created three years ago to crack down on sexual predators in Brooklyn's Orthodox community, which he said has led to the prosecution of 102 defendants involving 139 victims.
"It became clear to us that individuals in these various communities, despite out efforts, were committed to intimidating and threatening victims and protecting the perpetrators by means which included coercion or even bribery," Mr. Hynes said.
That led Mr. Hynes to create the task force earlier this year. Evidence leading to Mr. Rubin and the Berger brothers was a direct result of the task force.
A version of this article appeared June 22, 2012, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Bribe Alleged In Brooklyn Abuse Case.