By Oren Yaniv (New York Daily News)
July 9, 2013
An explosive extortion and bribery case against a Brooklyn Hasid appears to be on the verge of collapse because the star witness has been contradicting himself on every turn, it was revealed Monday.
A young man who accused Samuel Kellner of paying him to accuse a rabbi of sex abuse was all over the map during re-interviews in recent weeks, prosecutors said.
Kellner, 52, is accused of trying to extort Rabbi Baruch Lebovits and then paying off the witness to lodge accusations against the rabbi.
But the witness discredited himself with a flurry of inconsistencies, court papers show.
In conversations with prosecutors, the star witness acknowledged telling others Lebovits molested him, then later said he had never met Lebovits. He claimed not to know an associate of the rabbi, but subsequently said that person pays for his current stay in Israel and takes care of his expenses.
"We're just beginning this reinvestigation," assistant district attorney Joseph Alexis said in Brooklyn Supreme Court. He was told to provide an update July 29.
Kellner's attorney Niall MacGiollabhu blasted the DA's office for only probing in the two-year-old case on the eve of trial and for stringing the prosecution along to avoid bad publicity before DA Charles Hynes faces a primary challenge in September."It's very obvious to everybody that this witness will never be a witness against my client," he said in court.
"They have no case," the lawyer added after the hearing. "They will never have a case."
The only other witness against Kellner is Lebovits's own son, prosecutors said.
The man who accused Kellner of bribing him never ended up testifying against Lebovits, 62.
The respected Jewish cantor was still convicted in 2010 for molesting another boy. But the verdict was overturned on appeal last year and Lebovits is now awaiting a retrial.
Kellner, whose arrest was announced with much fanfare on April 2011, contends it was Lebovits's camp that paid the now-compromised witness to take back his allegations against the rabbi and finger him instead.
"Since they arrested me," Kellner said angrily, "they avoided every question about why they arrested me."