By Kathleen Hopkins (Asbury Park Press)
May 14, 2013
TOMS RIVER — The boy who accused his former camp counselor of sexual abuse wasn’t in court Monday when the onetime Yeshiva schoolteacher admitted the offenses.
He had already returned home to Michigan, where his family moved after they were shunned by some in their Orthodox Jewish community in Lakewood for going to secular authorities with the allegations.
But some spectators in the courtroom where Yosef Kolko pleaded guilty to various sexual assault charges said the admissions represented a victory not only for the boy, but for others in the Orthodox community who suffered from past abuse that has gone unpunished.
“I’m here for the victim, to show the victim that he did good and that he did nothing wrong,” said Isaac Weinreb, 49, of Passaic.
Weinreb, who described himself as a victim’s advocate, attended Kolko’s trial, which began last week and ended Monday with a guilty plea to all of the charges against him. Weinreb said he was sexually abused from age 11 to 14 by someone at an Orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn that he had attended. His alleged abuser fled the country and was never brought to justice for his acts, Weinreb said. So, Weinreb said he felt particularly glad for Kolko’s victim.
“I feel good that the person who’s responsible will get punished for his crime, more so for the victim, so he knows he isn’t wrong,” Weinreb said.
“What we did today was groundbreaking,” said Laura Pierro, senior assistant Ocean County prosecutor. “The Orthodox community had never been involved to this extent in a prosecution of this nature (in Ocean County).
“Lakewood’s community is a focal point for the Orthodox, so to say that it’s watershed here is almost the same as saying it’s watershed nationwide,” Pierro said of the case, which highlighted the Orthodox community’s longstanding tradition to handle such matters among themselves rather than going to secular authorities.
During the trial, the victim’s father testified that he first brought the allegations to a group of rabbis, but finally went to secular authorities months later when he learned the defendant was still working with children. Amid backlash from the community, the father, once a respected rabbi in Lakewood, lost his job, and the family moved away.
The trial was supposed to resume on Monday, but instead Pierro told Superior Court Judge Francis R. Hodgson that Kolko had decided to plead guilty to the crimes he was charged with after two more people came forward to authorities late in the day on Friday to claim that he had abused them as well.
Pierro said she was contacted by a young woman who claimed she was victimized by Kolko, and by the attorney for a young man who also claimed to be a victim.
The state agreed not proceed with any more charges against Kolko related to the additional victims in exchange for his guilty plea, but no other promises were made to him, Pierro said.
Kolko, 39, of Geffen Drive could be facing up to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child who was 11 and 12 when the abuse occurred in 2008 and 2009. Hodgson told Kolko he will consider sentencing him to no more than 15 years in prison, after he undergoes an evaluation at the state Corrections Department’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center for sexual offenders in the Avenel section of Woodbridge.
Kolko was calm and unemotional when he admitted committing a variety of sexual acts on the original victim, who had attended Yachad, a summer camp that is run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School on Swarthmore Avenue in Lakewood, where Kolko was employed as a counselor.
The defendant also was a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood.
Kolko, supplying a series of one-word, affirmative responses to questions posed by Pierro, acknowledged that the molestation occurred between August of 2008 through February of 2009, when the boy was 11 and 12 years old. Kolko also acknowledged that he, as the boy's camp counselor, had a legal responsibility to care for the child when he engaged in the sexual conduct with him.
Kolko seemed to flinch when Hodgson revoked his $125,000 bail at the request of Pierro. The defendant was led out of the courtroom to the Ocean County Jail.
“I commend Senior Assistant Prosecutor Laura Pierro and her team in securing justice for the victim, while showing great sensitivity to the family and their religious community,’’ said Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato. “They have proven our ability to successfully intercede on their community’s behalf, affording them the same protections under the law we so tirelessly apply to all Ocean County’s citizens. We will make every effort to assure this is a major step toward a continuing relationship with Ocean County’s religious communities.”
Defense attorney Michael F. Bachner said after the plea hearing that his client wishes to apologize to the victim’s family.
“Yosef is extremely remorseful for the suffering that the (victim’s) family had to endure for the last several years,” Bachner said. “He extends his apologies to the family and hopes the treatment he receives in Avenel will allow him to return to society.”
Pierro said she telephoned the victim and his father in Michigan to tell them the news, and that the victim was “absolutely thrilled.”
She said she hopes the Kolko prosecution will tell the Orthodox community that, “”We’re not adversaries in this fight against sexual abuse. We are not the enemy
“…What I hope most of all is that given some time, given some perspective, given time to heal, the community as a whole will recognize the bravery with which (the victim) came forward and will forever endorse what he did because it really was the right thing to do,” Pierro said.