By Paul Bass (New Haven Independent)
May 3, 2016
A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Rabbi Daniel Greer — who revived a declining neighborhood and has publicly crusaded against gay rights, prostitution, and coed university dorms — of repeatedly raping and molesting students at his yeshiva at Elm and Norton streets.
Greer, through his attorney, denied the allegations.
An attorney for Eliyahu Mirlis, the alleged victim, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
The suit names Greer and the two schools he founded and runs — the Gan School, a mixed-gender elementary school; and the Yeshiva of New Haven, a boarding high school for boys — as defendants.
The case has already started fraying a tight-knit religious family community centered around the yeshiva, in the former Roger Sherman School building at 765 Elm St. Through a series of corporations, Greer and his family bought, renovated, and have since rented out some four dozen multi-family homes on surrounding blocks, many of them notable for their eight-foot-high stockade fences. Passionate minyanim, or prayer services, occur daily in the morning and evening on the second floor of the school, which has doubled as a small neighborhood synagogue. Enrollment at the yeshiva dwindled to close to zero in recent months as word about the allegations spread through the Orthodox Jewish community. Officials resigned from the boards of the schools and the real estate corporations.
The fates of both the two schools and the portfolio of around 125 apartments in the neighborhood remain unclear in the wake of the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Mirlis attended the yeshiva and lived in Greer-owned housing from 2001 to 2005.
Greer, who is 75 today and was in his 60s at the time, “repeatedly and continuously sexually abused, exploited, and assaulted” Mirlis during his sophomore through senior years, when he was 15 to 17 years old, according to the complaint. It describes the abuse as “acts of sex ... including forced fellatio, anal sex, fondling and masturbation.”
“Rabbi Greer frequently gave Eli alcohol at the time he raped and assaulted his child victim,” the complaint charges.
“Rabbi Greer showed Eli pornographic films. Rabbi Greer anally raped, sodomized and in other ways sexually assaulted, abused and molested Eli dozens and dozens of times, with each incident lasting on average from one to four hours, and sometimes all night.
“Rabbi Greer raped, sodomized and sexually assaulted, abused and molested Eli on school property, in the bedroom of the Rabbi’s private residence, at motels in Branford, Connecticut and Paoli and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on land in Hamden, Connecticut, and at rental properties in New Haven owned and managed by Yeshiva of New Haven, Inc., The Gan School, Inc., and other non-stock Connecticut corporations of which Rabbi Greer was the President, Director and Treasurer, including properties located at 777 Elm Street, 203, 209 and 211 Norton Street, 139 West Park Avenue, 439 Edgewood Avenue, and 193 Maple Street.”
The school’s “senior officials” “knew and/or should have known that the Rabbi was raping, sodomizing and sexually assaulting, abusing and molesting the minor boy; and they did nothing to stop it,” the complaint charges. “At all relevant times, administrators and officials of The School failed to safeguard the keys to the rental properties, providing Rabbi Greer with multiple places where he could rape and assault his child victim at his leisure without fear of being discovered or stopped.” The complaint specifically cites an unnamed assistant principal as having had knowledge of the abuse but not taking action.
The suit further charges that “during the years prior to his sexual molestation of Eli, Greer sexually abused, molested and exploited at least one other minor boy in the care and custody of The School.”
State law — Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 17-38a — required school officials to notify authorities about suspicions about child abuse taking place, the complaint continues.
“The School employed a pedophile, and allowed that pedophile free reign to gratify his perverse sexual desires by molesting a young vulnerable boy in The School’s care and custody,” the state alleges.
The suit claims that the abuse has left Mirlis with “severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, pain and anguish, anxiety, panic, sexual dysfunction, PTSD, depression, hyper-vigilance, shame, and low self-esteem” that have “permanently damaged” his “educational and career prospects.” The suit does not specify an amount sought for damages beyond
Mirlis, who is 28 years old and lives in New Jersey, is represented in the suit by attorney Antonio Ponvert III of the Bridgeport firm Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder.
Rabbi Greer, who has maintained a confident position of innocence amid the allegations, referred a request for comment for this article to his attorney, William Ward.
Ward denied the accusations on Greer’s behalf in a conversation late Tuesday morning with the Independent.
“It only takes a moment to make allegations with despicable indifference to the consequences of the damage they would cause to my client, his family, and his reputation that he spent a lifetime building in his community. This is a difficult time for my client and his family. But I would remind the public to ask for evidence before rushing to judgment, as my client is now burdened with the task of proving something did not happen 14 years ago, as alleged by Mr. Mirlis,” Ward said.
“Ask yourself why Mr. Mirlis would wait 14 years. Ask yourself why Mr. Mirlis, well into his adulthood, repeatedly honored the man he now accuses. Ask yourself why Mr. Mirlis, an Orthodox Jew, would not seek redress form a rabbinical arbitration court. Ask yourself why Mr. Mirlis’s first stop was his lawyer’s office to seek money. And finally ask yourself why his attorney would issue a press release.”
Attorney Ponvert responded that victims of childhood sexual abuse often take years to come to grips with what happened to them and come forward with allegations, and in the meantime may maintain contact with their abusers. He said his client felt his best chance for justice lay in the civil courts.
“The waiting, first of all, is a well-known consequence of the infliction of childhood sexual abuse. If children were able to understand what was happening to them when they were being groomed and manipulated by an adult for that adult’s sexual gratification—if the children understood that at the time most of these would be reported when they happened. That doesn’t usually happen, because adults who sexually molest children tend to be very persuasive, very calculated, and very adept at choosing vulnerable victims who do not have the ability to get out of the relationship,” Ponvert said.
He said that one reason Mirlis “waited 14 years was because of the power that this man held over him. This your rabbi. This is the principal of your school. This is a 60-year-old man who is showing affection to you you’re not getting anywhere else in the world. He’s chosen you. You now have this person who has chosen you for this special relationship which he is telling you every day that it occurs is healthy and good. The time lag between that and the reporting is evidence of how good a molester and manipulator that Greer is.”
Police Will Look Into Case
The statute of limitations to file a federal suit is 30 years from the time of the alleged incident. The same is true for the state of Connecticut to pursue criminal charges, under the Connecticut General Statutes section 54-193a.
Ponvert said Mirlis has not sought to pursue criminal charges. But if the police or state’s attorney decide to pursue an investigation, “obviously my client will fully cooperate,” Ponvert said.
Upon the announcement of this information, the department will be reaching out to the plaintiff’s attorney,” Police Chief Dean Esserman told the Independent Tuesday.
Ponvert said his client chose a lawsuit rather than a criminal complaint to pursue his complaint because “he has the ability to attempt to control getting justice in the civil arena.”
The assistant principal named in the lawsuit did not return calls for this story. He has retained a local attorney, who, according to a secretary, is out of the country and unavailable. The assistant stepped down from his job in 2015.
Since Daniel Greer returned to New Haven in the 1970s, he has fought to create and preserve his visions of both urban neighborhoods and sexual morality.
Greer first came to New Haven to attend Yale Law School, where he roomed with future California governor and presidential candidate Jerry Brown. He then moved to New York City, where he served as an official (deputy commissioner for ports and terminals) for Mayor John Lindsay. He also led a successful campaign to force the United States to pressure the Soviet Union into allowing Jewish “refuseniks” to emigrate here and start new, freer lives.
Back in New Haven, he set out to create a walkable, safe enclave in the Edgewood neighborhood where he and his wife could create an Orthodox school for their children and other Jewish children.
His success in stabilizing a declining neighborhood has inspired clergy from other faiths to try the same approach in other parts of town plagued by absentee slumlords.
From the start, Greer understood the need for political and community ties to succeed with his mission. He cultivated corporate donors, some of whom could contribute to his group’s not-for-profit real-estate efforts through the state Neighborhood Assistance Act. The annual yeshiva community dinner has honored leaders in the broader community and drawn political leaders from throughout the state.
He served on city boards and commissions. He played an important role as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners in hearings that exposed massive illegal NHPD wiretapping of government dissidents and political opponents. He later served on the Redevelopment Authority board as well.
Greer and the Gan School’s members and supporters organized neighborhood campaigns and got out the vote for candidates in ward elections. Working with police and prosecutors, Greer and his allies successfully pressed for the shutdown of a brothel and publicly posted the names of johns arrested for patronizing street hookers, sweeping public prostitution from the neighborhood. After Greer’s son was assaulted during an uptick in crime, his organization formed an armed “defense patrol” along with the Guardian Angels. The patrol, though short-lived, made national news and forced the city to police the neighborhood better.
Most recently, Greer blasted city officials for ending a lease for a police substation at a Greer-owned building at Whalley and Norton, and for not taking action against commercial slumlords in the neighborhood.
Greer was also outspoken about sexual mores. He railed to a crowd against the evils of homosexuality and gay marriage at a rally at the state capitol. Gan members also testified in New Haven against a domestic partnership law.
Jew vs. Jew
When Greer’s daughter attended Yale, he led a legal fight in 1997 against co-ed dorms, which he depicted as dens of immorality. He didn’t prevail in court. But he embarrassed Yale with national news coverage of the “Yale 5” case, including a lengthy New York Times Magazine story that author Samuel Freedman expanded into a central part of his book Jew vs. Jew.
In recent weeks, Greer has threatened legal action against a local blogger, Lawrence Dressler, who has published accusations against Greer on his site.
Ward, Greer’s attorney, sent an April 18 cease-and-desist letter to Dressler, who used to pray at the yeshiva minyan and launched the blog after serving 20 months in prison on a mortgage fraud-related charge. The letter requested that Dressler publish a “retraction and apology” for what he’d written about Greer and the yeshiva, and refrain from making “any further false statements about Rabbi Greer and the Yeshiva of New Haven.” He also called the accusations “defamatory.”
“These statements have caused great distress to my client and have damaged the reputation of the Yeshiva and Rabbi Greer,” Ward wrote.
Joseph Merly, an attorney in the New Haven law firm headed by John R. Williams, responded on April 20 with a letter written on Dressler’s behalf. “Mr. Dressler has no intention of retracting any statements ...” the letter informed Ward. “The statements which Mr. Dressler made are completely true and accurate and as you know, truth is the best defense to a claim of defamation. In fact, Mr. Dressler intends to expand his efforts to bring forth victims of your clients and publishing their stories and to continue alerting the community to your clients’ crimes.”