By James King (Village Voice)
November 30, 2012
For the second time this year, four Orthodox Jews have been arrested for allegedly interfering in the trial of prominent Jewish leader/"therapist" Nechemya Weberman, who allegedly sexually abused one of his patients for several years, starting when the girl was only 12 years old.
The four men arrested allegedly took photos of the victim as she testified in front of a Brooklyn jury yesterday, presumably to intimidate the girl. One of the photos ended up on Twitter.
The four men -- Lemon Juice, 30, Joseph Fried, 23, Yona Weisman, 23, and Abraham Zupnick, 23 -- are all members of the insular Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism based in Williamsburgh, of which Weberman is a leader.
State Supreme Court Justice John Ingram scolded the four men, reportedly telling them "You know about the Torah, you know about rabbinical courts. This is a civil court! Your phones will be held for possible criminal prosecution. You may wish to avail yourself of counsel."
Ingram then ordered that everyone surrender their phones while they're in the courtroom -- a policy that typically is reserved for gang trials.
This is now the second time that Weberman's followers have interfered with the trial in an attempt to intimidate the victim and other witnesses.
In June, four other men were indicted on charges that they attempted to persuade/intimidate witnesses into not testifying against Weberman.
Abraham Rubin, 48, was hit with several charges including four counts of bribing a witness, two counts of tampering with a witness in the fourth degree and one count of coercion in the second degree. Three brothers, Joseph, Jacob and Hertzka Berger, face additional charges for attempting to intimidate the witness -- according to authorities, they threatened to remove the rabbi-issued kosher certification from the witness' restaurant, and Jacob Berger physically went to the business and tore the kosher certificate off the wall.
The indictments were the first stemming from Project Kol Tzedek, a task force set up by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office aimed at helping sex-crime victims in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish Communities to report abuse. According to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, because of the "insular nature" of Orthodox Jewish communities, and victims who are reluctant to report crimes to secular authorities, this program "goes a long way to address those impediments."
In the case of Rubin, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office says he offered Weberman's alleged victim and her boyfriend -- who is the "outcry witness" in the case against Weberman -- $500,000 to drop the case. Rubin allegedly offered to get an attorney for the couple who could teach them how to be uncooperative with authorities. Rubin even suggested that the couple flee the country to avoid testifying against Weberman.
The Berger brothers each have been charged with second-degree aggravated harassment for allegedly intimidating the victim. Jacob Berger also faces third-degree criminal mischief for tearing the certificate off the wall.
If convicted, the Bergers each face up to a year in jail. Jacob Berger's looking at up to four years in prison for the criminal mischief charge.
"Intimidation of victims and witnesses in sex abuse cases in the Orthodox community is what has made prosecuting these cases so difficult. Victims were afraid to come forward because they would be threatened and shunned in their communities," Hynes said in June. "My office spares no effort to conceal and protect the identities of sex crimes victims, regardless of their cultural or religious background. Hopefully, these indictments serve as an example that we will not tolerate individuals who try to interfere with the pursuit of justice."