By Hella Winston (The Jewish Week)
July 11, 2013
Saying the case against chasidic abuse whistleblower Sam Kellner “seems to have no witnesses,” Brooklyn state Assemblyman Dov Hikind called on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes “to drop all charges against” Kellner, a constituent of his Borough Park district.
In a press released issued Thursday morning, Hikind said that Kellner first approached him in 2008 for counsel after he discovered his son had been molested by Baruch Lebovits, a cantor and prominent member of the Munkacs community. Hikind’s release noted that “was the first elected official in his district to address the issues of child “abuse.”
Hikind cited several reasons for why the case against Kellner should be dismissed immediately: what he called “recent revelations” by the DA about the unreliability of a key witness in the case, and Hikind’s own determination that a tape recorded conversation — in “Hungarian Yiddish” — brought by Lebovits’ son and that prosecutors have claimed is a “smoking gun” against Kellner, was “mistranslated.” The existence of the tape was first reported by The Jewish Week.
“Sam Kellner and his family have been victimized enough. His son’s life will never be the same,” Hikind said in the statement.
“It’s unfair to drag out a case against Sam that seems to have no witnesses. The financial burden and stress that Sam continues to endure by the continuance of this case is unjust.”
Kellner, a resident of Borough Park, is awaiting trial on charges he paid a witness to fabricate claims of sexual abuse by Lebovits. Kellner, whose son is also an alleged Lebovits victim — and who brought additional Lebovits victims to the police — is also charged with attempting to extort money from the Lebovits family.
Later on Thursday, a group of about 30 protesters gathered outside Hynes’ Jay Street office to demand the DA drop the charges against Kellner.
Those in attendance included organizer Chaim Levin, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate, and anti-abuse advocates Mark Appel, Ben Hirsch and Nuchem Rosenberg. They were by joined by Doreen Giuliano, who believes her son, John Giuca, was wrongfully convicted by Hynes in 2005, and Derrick Hamilton, who spent over 20 years in jail before being released on parole in 2011. (Hamilton, whose case involved now discredited Det. Louis Scarcella, is appealing his conviction.)
Both of Hynes’ challengers in the upcoming Democratic primary, Kenneth Thompson and Abe George, also attended the rally.
“You have a situation where Mr. Kellner worked hand in hand with the DA to get the indictment of Mr. Lebovits and then the DA turns around and indicts Mr. Kellner,” Thompson told The Jewish Week at the rally.
“What the DA has to explain in the Kellner case is how is it possible that two different units in his office, the Sex Crimes unit, which brought the case against Mr. Lebovits, and the Rackets Division, which brought the case against Mr. Kellner, brought two cases that are diametrically opposed. It does not make sense. And both of those cases are still pending. How is that possible?
“A prosecutor has an obligation to do justice, and part of doing justice is making sure you investigate allegations brought against a citizen,” Thompson continued.
“What investigation was conducted about the allegations brought against Mr. Kellner before he was indicted? Did Mike Vecchione [the chief of the Rackets Division] sit down with the sex crimes prosecutors and say, ‘We are about to indict Mr. Kellner?’ We need to know all of this. A judge should have been brought into this case to find out what [was] going on. [This case] just shows how dysfunctional the leadership is in the Brooklyn DA’s office.”
Kellner’s legal team has urged that an “outside investigation” be conducted.
According to Abe George, Kellner’s case “is emblematic of what’s wrong with the DA’s office — that the singular consideration is not justice or what the right outcome is, but politics.” Observers have long held that, in cases of alleged sexual abuse in the haredi community, Hynes has deferred to ultra-Orthodox leaders in order to curry political favor.
“It’s amazing to me that when Sam [Kellner] first approached the DAs office to say his son was abused, they said, “That’s not good enough, you’ve got to go out there and find more victims,’” George continued. He was citing claims made by Kellner that he was told by the DA that given Lebovits’ advanced age and lack of prior convictions, the office was unlikely to pursue his son’s case, a misdemeanor, without an additional victim.
“Sam [Kellner] is a guy who played by the rules of the community. He got the permission of a rabbi [to report to the police] and the DA told him, ‘That’s not good enough.’ Can you imagine, you’re a victim of a rape and you come to the DA’s office and they say, ‘You’ve got to find more cases against this guy who is raping people?’ That would be unheard of. People should be outraged,” he added.
“But Sam does that and then all the sudden, there are more powerful people [who come to them], and instead of protecting the victim, they [go] after Sam. There’s an internal conflict between guys like Mike Vecchione and the Sex Crimes unit.”
Shlomo Weiss, who grew up in the chasidic community and was sexually abused by his father for many years, also attended the protest. While he told The Jewish Week he did not know Sam Kellner personally, he showed up because “if I have taken away anything from my experience, where family members watched me get molested since I was a [child], it is that there is nothing more amoral than watching a kid be molested and keeping quiet.”
“That is why it hurts when we see a [good parent like Sam Kellner] not selling out [and reporting an abuser] and being persecuted to historic proportions,” he continued.
What is even worse in this case, Weiss added, is that it appears that Lebovits’ backers, along with the DA “used a [legitimate] victim [of Lebovits] to destroy Kellner.”