By Kathleen Hopkins (Asbury Park Press and USA Today)
May 8, 2013
TOMS RIVER, N.J. — Yosef Kolko was a popular counselor who helped an unpopular young boy fit at summer camp in 2007, a jury of nine men and seven women heard Wednesday.
Kolko recruited the boy, who was teased by his peers, to sing in the choir at the camp run by Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School in Lakewood, N.J., and take roles in camp plays, Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Laura Pierro said during opening arguments of Kolko's sexual assault trial before Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson.
The activity was great for the shy boy who was wildly into music but usually kept to himself and was shunned by kids his own age, she said.
"That elation would soon be replaced by a profound sense of discomfort," Pierro said.
The following summer, when the boy returned to Yachad, Kolko started to sexually abuse the boy, Pierro told the jury.
Kolko would rub up against the boy, then 11, engage in acts of oral sex with him and attempt to perform other sexual acts on the child, Pierro said.
The abuse occurred at the camp, in a car, in woods near a park and even in a bathroom at a synagogue, Pierro said.
"Sadly," Pierro said, "that 30-something-year-old man was his best friend."
Kolko, now 39, is charged with aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment.
The boy, whose name is being withheld to protect his identity, revealed the sexual abuse to a therapist in February of 2009. When the boy's family was told, the child's father, a prominent rabbi in Lakewood's Orthodox community, confronted Kolko, demanding he seek help and quit working with children, Pierro said.
The father recorded the conversation, Pierro said. Kolko never denied the accusations and went with him to see another rabbi, she said.
The father sought to have a rabbinical council handle the accusations, but when Kolko eventually refused to cooperate in the process, the victim and his family in July 2009 went to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, shunning their religious traditions that such matters be handled by rabbis and not secular authorities.
Because "one Jew is not to inform on another," Pierro said, the father has since resigned his prestigious teaching position and the family has moved from Lakewood.
Kolko's attorney, Michael F. Bachner, said the child is lying, possibly because of pressure from others in the Orthodox community or maybe because Kolko tried to keep his distance from the boy.
In the end, Bachner said, "there was a decision made that Yosef Kolko was getting thrown under the bus."
Bachner said Kolko's silence in denying the accusations brought by the victim's father had nothing to do with guilt, but with respect for a respected rabbi in his community.
"The respect for a rabbinical authority is enormous," Bachner said. "Kolko's only remark to (the boy's father) was, Are you trying to destroy me?' "
Bachner said the boy's father gave Kolko an ultimatum: Quit his job and go to therapy or the father would got to the secular authorities.
Kolko told him, "I can't do that. I didn't do anything wrong. Do what you have to do," Bachner said. "And he continued to work."
The boy at the center of the case is expected to testify when the trial resumes later Wednesday.
Kolko is free on $125,000 bail. If he is convicted of the charges, he could face up to 60 years in prison.