Defendant Takes Stand

By Pervaiz Shallwani (Wall Street Journal)
December 5, 2012

Testifying on his own behalf, a respected Brooklyn Jewish counselor told a jury he "never ever" sexually abused a now-18-year-old girl who was under his care for three years.

Nechemya Weberman, 54, acknowledged that he used his position as an unlicensed religious counselor for his own personal gain in the Satmar Hasidic community, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism.

He admitted he took a salary from the not-for-profit he created in 2000, Lev V'nefesh, and used credit cards in its name to pay for his children's private-school tuition, testifying: "If I did, I needed to."

Mr. Weberman was the final witness to testify in a trial that has put a spotlight on a community that prosecutors say has historically avoided prosecution by keeping members quiet and handling criminal matters internally.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday, with the jury to begin its deliberations afterward.

Mr. Weberman is accused of sexually abusing the young woman dozens of times in his Williamsburg home and office over a three-year span beginning when she was 12 years old. Defense attorneys cast the case in a different light, saying the alleged victim singled out their client and the Satmar sect because of its ultra-Orthodox policies.

Defense attorneys asked Mr. Weberman if he had ever "inappropriately touched" his victim. He responded: "Never ever."

Mr. Weberman acknowledged that he has no counseling or training to be a counselor. He said his career began after being approached by a family member for help with marital problems.

He said that by 2000 he was counseling full-time and had started a nonprofit that solicited money from the community to help those who could not afford his services. Mr. Weberman gained stature in the community by serving as the driver of Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, a former world leader of the Satmar.

Mr. Weberman testified that he was respected in Satmar communities in both Williamsburg and upstate, even though the two communities despise each other after a dispute between two brothers who helm the two sects.

He said rabbis would recommend him to the parents of troubled children and he would charge the parents.

Mr. Weberman testified that he came to be known by many in the community as "rebbe" or rabbi and acknowledged and his letterhead says "Rabbinical Counseling" though he is not ordained as a rabbi or licensed as a counselor. Asked by prosecutors whether he used a not-for-profit for his own gain, Mr. Weberman responded: "Yes, I did."

Prosecutors claim that rabbis wanted him to oversee the counseling because as an unlicensed counselor his is not a "mandated reporter" who must report child abuse to authorities.