Jury Finds Nechemya Weberman, Satmar Hasidic Leader, Guilty of Molesting Teenage Girl He Was Paid to Counsel
By Oren Yaniv, Simone Weichselbaum and Ginger Adams Otis (NY Daily News)
December 10, 2012
A prominent Hasidic counselor was convicted yesterday of sexually abusing a young girl in a bombshell trial that caused deep rifts in Brooklyn's insular Satmar sect.
Ultra-Orthodox counselor Nechemya Weberman, 54, was convicted on all 59 counts of abuse, including sustained sex abuse of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum of 117 years in prison.
Weberman sat silently in the Brooklyn courtroom as the results were read, before being led from the court room in handcuffs.
The victim - who testified that she "wanted to die rather than live with herself" as the monster violated her during the closed-door molestation sessions - cried tears of joy when she got the news, she told Daily News.
"I can't wait until he is in prison. And someone holds him down and for once in his life, he can feel helpless," she said. "I honestly believe that God is my witness, and he stands up for me," said the young woman, who just turned 18 this month. "I was nervous, I was reliving trauma. But I was sure he was going down."
Her husband, who she wed last month after leaving the tight-knit sect behind, told The News, "God showed us that he is the one who makes decisions. When he is the witness you can't lie."
Many in the Satmar world were angered to see such a highly-regarded man in the community forced to defend himself in the "unreliable" secular court system, instead of secret rabbinical court proceedings.
"How did the jury listen to someone who hates the community so much?" fumed Joel Weinstock, 31, a close family friend of Weberman. "The people in this community are so hurt."
Weberman's accusor, who recently turned 18, shot back at his supporters, who once rallied for him by the hundreds: "When they think about me, they should think about how they would feel if it where their daughter. Would they let them be abused? Or would they stop it?"
In Feb. 2011, she told authorities the Hasidic leader had abused her repeatedly starting in 2007, when she was 12.
The girl was put in Weberman's care because she had asked probing questions about her faith, dressed immodestly and showed an interest in boys - all violations of her sect's prohibitive rules.
Having become a confidant for other young women who told her they were molested by Weberman as girls, the victorious victim told The News she feels empowered.
"You have to fight it all the way. You can't be scared," she said. "You can't be scared of being kicked out of the community. This is the beginning of the changes."
While not a licensed therapist, Weberman was the de facto community counselor for many of the 250,000 Hasidic families who live in Brooklyn, the largest Satmar community in the world.
Without any physical evidence, the Brooklyn DA's case hinged on the personal testimony of the victim, who bravely stared down her former rabbinical advisor from the witness stand.
Over the two-week trial, she spent four days relating the sordid details of her private counseling sessions with Weberman behind his locked office doors.
"I didn't know how to fight. I was numb," she testified.
Weberman forced her to perform oral sex and act out porn films, she said. The abuse lasted from 2007 to 2010.
Her family paid Weberman $12,800 in counseling fees during that time, the victim's mother testified Monday.
Weberman took the stand in his own defense and insisted that he "never ever" inappropriately touched the young lady while she was in his care.
But he was forced to acknowledge he had used funds from his charity's to pay for his children's school tuition and buy lingerie.
The defense team painted his accuser as an out-of-control teen who wanted revenge on Weberman after he and the girl's father filmed her in bed with a former boyfriend - who was older than her - then used the footage to get him arrested for statutory rape, according to the defense.
"When she found out that she had been betrayed, she went wild," defense attorney Stacey Richman said.
The exact content of the tape was never revealed to the jury.
"We firmly believe that the jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts and, as a result, the truth did not come out," said defense lawyer George Farkas, who vowed to appeal. "The struggle to clear an innocent man will continue in full force," he said.
At Weberman's Brooklyn shul last night, several supporters said he'd been railroaded.
"I believe (the prosecutor) was under pressure from the media to show that he's breaking down on the Hasidic community," said Yoely Brache, 30, adding that he would trust his kids to Weberman.
Weberman is being held without bail on Rikers Island and will be sentenced Jan. 9.
The trial rocked the tight-knit group, not only because of the shocking charges but also because the case was played out in a public court. The guarded society strongly discourages going to outside authorities.
The victim testified she and her family were harassed and shunned for coming forward; her father lost his business and her nieces were kicked out of school.
Three men were charged with criminal contempt for snapping images of the accuser on the witness stand with cellphone cameras and posting them online during the trial.
But the couple never backed down. "Anyone from the community who wants to intimidate us, we will report them," the victim's husband told The News. "We want to make sure justice is served."
Before the trial began, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes charged another man with trying to bribe the accuser to drop the charges.
"The victim showed great courage to come forward in a very difficult time," said Hynes.
Weberman's office became a way station for other troubled teen girls who strayed from the Satmar sect's rigid religious rules, prosecutors said during the trial.
Authorities know of at least one more alleged Weberman victim, but she has so far refused to step forward and press charges, they said.
Despite the furor from the trial, Hynes hopes that more abuse victims will ask for help.
"The veil of secrecy has been lifted," the DA said. "It's very clear to me that it's only going to get better for people who were victimized in these various communities."
Weberman's accuser, who turned 18 last month and got married, isn't looking back."We don't feel embarrassed," her husband said. "You can't change the past. You can only fix the future."
With Mark Morales