By Gabrielle Sierra (Gothamist)
July 12, 2013
A demonstration was held yesterday outside of Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes's office to protest the controversial prosecution of Hasidic sex-abuse whistleblower Sam Kellner. Chaim Levin, a Jewish activist from Crown Heights, organized the protest, and called upon D.A. Hynes to drop all charges against Kellner.
"We already know that the case against Kellner is falling apart," said Levin. "But the way it just became so abundantly clear that he's being wrongfully accused, and the real danger is not being pursued at all, it's just so disturbing and distressing."
As we previously reported, Kellner first came into the spotlight when he pushed for justice on behalf of his son and other alleged victims of sexual abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community. Kellner spoke out after learning that his son was allegedly molested by Borough Park rabbi/travel agent Baruch Lebovits.
After obtaining permission from a rabbinical court to report the abuse to the Brooklyn DA's office, Kellner was told that prosecuting was useless and that unless he could prove Lebovits was a serial offender, he would most likely go free. As a result, Kellner found two victims to come forward, and Lebovits was convicted of eight counts of molestation. However, in spite of the conviction, Lebovits, 62, has not seen much jail time.
The twist in the case comes when DA Charles Hynes indicted Kellner on charges of attempting to extort Lebovits, after the second victim recanted his statements and said that Kellner was bribing him.
But it was recently disclosed that the second victim recanted his statements again, clearing Kellner's name. And as we previously noted, it's been learned that the victim is being paid not by Kellner, but by a man named Zalmen Ashkenazi, a community activist is reportedly close to Lebovits.
"The precedent the D.A.'s office is setting is frightening," Levin said while protesting outside of 350 Jay Street. "Coming from an Orthodox community and having to deal with the culture of silence where my family told me to shut my mouth, my parents told me to shut my mouth, my Rabbi told me to shut my mouth and everyone said don't tell anyone."
Levin, 24, recently won a 3.5 million dollar lawsuit after he filed molestation charges against his cousin. He runs a website called "Gotta Give 'Em Hope," on which he appeals to "anyone who feels alone, confused, unwanted and unaccepted."
"When victims see what the D.A.'s office is doing to Sam Kellner, someone who did more than my parents did when I told them about my abuse, I mean, what kind of incentive will they have to come forward?" Levin said. "They already have so many reasons not to come forward."
Hynes's spokesman Jerry Schmetterer declined to comment on the protest, but told us, "We intend to take this case to trial."
Protester Marcos Masri said he feels that the case is covering up something that needs to be addressed. "I think there is a lot of things that you have to look at," Masri told us. "In this case there is something under the rocks we have to look at. You have to be more transparent, the case is crumbling because there is something in it, and you have to begin to look into what that actually is."
Masri goes on to stress that there is something "mismanaged" in the connection between the Orthodox community and the Brooklyn DA's office. "Lebovits is a powerful man in the community," he said, "and the D.A. knows that. I'm on the inside, we all know this."
DA Hynes has a history of looking the other way when it comes to sexual abuse charges in the ultra-Orthodox community, something that many attribute to his heavy reliance on their bloc vote.
Mark Meyer Appel, president of the Voice of Justice, who came in from Florida to attend the rally, feels that "there is no question that this man [Hynes] is a very seriously corrupt guy."
"This case is absurd. I don't know how much longer this guy can get away with it," Appel said. "I happen to know the boy that recanted his testimony, and it's horrific, it's really horrific. This boy, everyone knows he was a victim, Kellner's son, he told half of New York including myself."
When asked what his ideal outcome for the case would be, Appell replied that he feels the DA is too embarrassed to drop the case, so they are doing a "slow step" backwards. "I would like this thing to go on, the trial to go on," he said, "because then we can subpoena everything and find out what really happened. Which is one of the reasons why they want to drop it."
The protest, which started at 11 a.m., had dissipated by noon, but organizer Levin said he was "happy with the turnout." He also pointed out that the DA's office had hosted a press conference on a Brooklyn prostitution ring bust at the same time.