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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Williamsburg - 4 Four Indicted, Facing Potential Jail Time for Intimidating Witnesses in Sex Abuse Case

The Brooklyn district attorney, facing an avalanche of complaints about his handling of sexual abuse allegations in the ultra-Orthodox community, on Thursday charged four men with attempting to silence an accuser by offering her and her boyfriend a $500,000 bribe, and threatening her boyfriend’s business.

The district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, alleged that the men were part of an effort by the community to protect a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic community, Nechemya Weberman, who has been accused of 88 counts of sexual misconduct, including oral sex with a child younger than 13 years old.

The charges all involve a single victim, a young woman who was referred by her school to get counseling by Mr. Weberman, and then alleges she was abused by him during therapy sessions.

The intimidation charges mark the first time in at least two decades that Mr. Hynes has arrested Hasidic Jews for intimidating a sex abuse victim, even though victims, their advocates, prosecutors say intimidation has become a major obstacle to prosecution of abuse cases in the ultra-Orthodox community.

In recent weeks, Mr. Hynes has been saying that the intimidation of witnesses in the ultra-Orthodox community is worse than in the world of organized crime.

The four men arrested, Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger, who are brothers, and Abraham Rubin, all of Williamsburg, pleaded not guilty on Thursday in a Brooklyn courtroom packed with benches full of their supporters, dressed in the dark clothing worn by Hasidic men. Mr. Rubin, 48, was charged with bribery, witness tampering, and coercion; the Berger brothers were all charged with coercion.

The executive bureau chief of the district attorney’s rackets division, Josh Hanshaft, said the men had been “telling witnesses to forget what they know, not to come to court, to disappear,” and said prosecutors had “clear, substantial evidence” that part of the plan to silence witnesses involved offering money to dissuade their testimony.

He said of Mr. Rubin, “He has no regard for the system. He thumbs his nose at the system,” and of the Berger brothers: “They have gone and destroyed property. There have been threatening phone calls.” He said prosecutors were concerned that the men might now flee to Israel.

Hertzka Berger’s lawyer, Bruce Wenger, said after the arraignment that the four men were all “prominent members within the community.”

“They all deny the allegations,” Mr. Wenger said. “They are all obviously going to be fighting these cases vehemently. They are looking forward to their day in court.”

The young woman was in the sixth grade when she was first sent to Mr. Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, by her Williamsburg religious school, a close family member said in an interview last month. Her parents were told that she would be expelled from school unless they paid $150 an hour for him to provide her with therapy.

Instead, Mr. Weberman, who is now 53, repeatedly sexually molested her over three years, and told her that she would be expelled from school if she told anyone, the relative said.

The girl then changed schools, and told a licensed therapist what had happened. The therapist reported the girl’s allegations to the police.

After Mr. Weberman’s arrest in 2011, a campaign of intimidation is alleged to have begun against the victim, her boyfriend and family members.

Williamsburg community leaders publicly proclaimed their support for Mr. Weberman, and, on May 15, hosted hundreds of Hasidic men at a local wedding hall to raise money for Mr. Weberman’s legal defense.

To promote the fund-raiser, his supporters hung posters on lampposts and brick walls around the neighborhood, accusing the young woman, in Yiddish, of libel, and warning that if Mr. Weberman was found guilty, therapists would no longer be able to treat the neighborhood’s children.

The woman’s boyfriend, 24-year-old Hershy Deutsch, held a demonstration outside the fund-raiser in support of ultra-Orthodox child sex abuse victims.

In an interview at the time, he said that he had faced intimidation because of his girlfriend’s charges. He said that a restaurant he manages in Williamsburg, the Old Williamsburg Cafe on Lee Avenue, was targeted by a flood of false complaints to city authorities in late April. And, he said, community members had offered him $500,000 if he could convince the victim to drop her case.

“For those of you questioning the credibility of the victim’s story,” Mr. Deutsch wrote in a letter he posted on his Facebook page, “ask yourself the following question: Would a nonguilty person offer someone a half a million dollars if they drop the charges?”

“Speak up!” he wrote. “Face the facts, our community has been covering up these stories for way too long. We have to put an end to this!”

Prosecutors said on Thursday that Mr. Rubin had been recorded offering Mr. Deutsch $500,000, which he suggested the two could use to flee to Israel to avoid testifying.

The three brothers, prosecutors said, threatened to remove the kosher certification from Mr. Deutsch’s restaurant.

When he did not cave in to the pressure, they said, Jacob Berger went to the restaurant and tore down the certificate.

Mr. Weberman has denied the abuse allegations, and on Thursday, his lawyer, George Farkas, said Mr. Weberman knew nothing of the alleged intimidation.

“He had nothing to do with this and he deplores this kind of conduct,” Mr. Farkas said. “Mr. Weberman, and his attorneys, are appalled by these allegations, which if true, are reprehensible. We denounce any effort to undermine the legitimate court process in this or any case.”

Victims’ advocates said Thursday that they were glad that Mr. Hynes had brought an intimidation case, and hoped it would begin to ease the problem.

“This is a big threshold,” said Mark Appel, the founder of Voice of Justice, a nonprofit agency that helps Orthodox victims. “I think that Hynes wants to restore his legacy. I think he’s really trying.”

Joel Engelman, the founder of the Jewish Survivors Network, also praised Mr. Hynes for bringing the intimidation case, saying, “I am happy that he chose these people, because in the Williamsburg Hasidic community, intimidation is rampant.”


  1. My dear friends. There are video tapes and voice recordings of the attempted bribe. Unimpeachable evidence. Everyone knew this was coming. DA Hynes and staff outfitted the store well in advance. Everything was being recorded 24/7. These idiots walked into a trap. They have only themselves to blame. The girls did not even know anything about the bribe until it hit the news wires. Weberman may or may not have known. Let justice prevail.

  2. If guilty they need to be punished to the max. People like this only embolden the monsters and need to be stopped.

  3. As comment #1 plays as an "all knower", he has no clue what he's talking about, first of all, Mr. Rubin and those 3 brothers are totally unrelated, they don't even know each other, and belong to different communities, so trying to make a good blend and draw a blurry picture to believe as if this was sort of a conspiracy is just ridiculous.
    secondly, there is no tape of the brothers talking about Weberman's case, since the whole dispute they have with the woner of the reataurant waas removing the kashrus certification for kashrus violatins, he's trying to "get even" with them by drawing lines from Rubin to Them.
    lack of evidnce will surely prove that all are innocent.

  4. Reply to #!,
    Aha, so there's video recording and a trap, and the judge released them on only 5,000 dollars, you must be drinking something!
    This amount of bail comes to show there's no case at all, face it friend! You may be upset that people stopped going in to your store because of the kashrus issues and as a result the hashgacha removal, but, don't kid yourself that you've got your revenge for removing the hashgacha because of your kashrus violations.