By Ray Rivera (New York Times)
June 28, 2012
For years, Avrohom Mondrowitz counseled children out of his home in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was host of a call-in radio show popular among ultra-Orthodox Jewish listeners, claiming to be a rabbi and psychologist. But law enforcement officials say Mr. Mondrowitz, who fled to Israel in 1984 to avoid arrest, was also something else: "a compulsive pedophile."
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, has repeatedly said that since taking office in 1990, he has vigorously tried to extradite Mr. Mondrowitz. Mr. Hynes has said his office was instrumental in bringing about a change in a treaty between the United States and Israel in 2007 that had thwarted early extradition efforts.
But newly disclosed documents from Mr. Hynes's office cast doubts on his accounts of his role in the case, suggesting that for many years, the office paid little attention to it.
Michael Lesher, a writer and lawyer who represents several of Mr. Mondrowitz's accusers, obtained 103 pages of files on the case from the district attorney's office after a protracted court battle to secure them under the state's Freedom of Information Law.
"There isn't a single e-mail, a single letter, a single memo, either originating from the D.A.'s office or addressed to it, that so much as mentions any attempt by the D.A. to seek a change in the extradition treaty," Mr. Lesher said. "It's just inconceivable that such important negotiation on such a detailed issue could have taken place and not left a trace in the documentary record."
Mr. Hynes has long been criticized by advocacy groups representing victims of child sexual abuse, who claimed that he was too accommodating of politically influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis, many of whom teach that such crimes should be handled by rabbinical authorities.
Scrutiny of his office intensified last month after articles in The New York Times raised questions about his handling of sexual abuse cases among the ultra-Orthodox.
Mr. Hynes has defended his record, but after the articles were published, he promised to push for legislation making it mandatory for rabbis to report abuse. He also set up a task force to crack down on witness intimidation, which has stymied many sexual abuse cases in the community.
The Mondrowitz case has long been one of the most notorious child sexual abuse cases in Brooklyn.
Mr. Mondrowitz was charged with molesting five boys, but Amy Neustein, editor of the book "Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals," which includes a history of the case, said she believed he had at least 100 victims.
Mr. Mondrowitz, now 64, has denied the charges.
The first efforts to extradite Mr. Mondrowitz, made in the mid-1980s by Mr. Hynes's predecessor as district attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, failed after the Israeli authorities ruled that the extradition treaty did not cover sodomy.
After the treaty was amended in 2007, an Israeli court ordered Mr. Mondrowitz to be returned to Brooklyn, but the Israel Supreme Court reversed the decision in 2010. In its ruling, the court said the long delay in amending the treaty had created a "substantive violation" to Mr. Mondrowitz's right to a fair trial, according to a United States Justice Department summary of the decision. The court said that the treaty could have been changed much earlier.
Over the years, Mr. Hynes has often said in interviews that he has placed a priority on pursuing Mr. Mondrowitz.
In 2009, he said on the syndicated radio show "Talkline with Zev Brenner" that his office, led by Rhonnie Jaus, the chief of his sex crimes bureau, "convinced the State Department to bring the case to the Israeli government to change the extradition treaty."
Mr. Hynes reiterated his stance in an e-mail to The Times this week. A spokeswoman for the State Department said information to confirm Mr. Hynes's assertions was not readily available and would have to be researched.
Federal officials, not local ones, negotiate extradition treaties, but the new documents obtained by Mr. Lesher provide no evidence that Ms. Jaus or anyone in the office tried to lobby American or Israeli authorities to change the extradition rules.
In an interview this week, Ms. Jaus said that the documents released to Mr. Lesher did not show the full scope of the office's efforts, noting that more than 280 pages in the file were withheld. The office said in a letter to Mr. Lesher that the pages that were withheld consisted mainly of internal agency documents, like memos between staff members.
Ms. Jaus, who has been chief of sex crimes since 1992, said she did not get involved in the case until 2000, when the State Department alerted her that Mr. Mondrowitz was trying to return to the United States. Hopes of arresting him ended when he failed to arrive, she said.
Asked what she did to lobby for treaty changes, she said her office made occasional calls to the Justice Department, mainly to check on the status of negotiations over the treaty. The first call was in 2000 to review the history of the case, she said, followed by another in 2003 and two calls in 2006.
"If you can't extradite him because of an existing treaty, what can you do?" she said. "But our position was very well known: We always wanted to extradite this person."