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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prosecution Backtracks in A Hasidic Sex-Abuse Fraud Case

Brooklyn prosecutors had been scheduled on Monday to open the trial of an Orthodox Jew charged with paying a child to falsely testify that he was a victim of sexual abuse.

But in a dramatic reversal, they told the trial judge that their key witness was no longer trustworthy, indicating the potential collapse of a controversial case that highlighted the complicated relationship between District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and the politically influential Orthodox community.

The case against the defendant, Sam Kellner, has been unusual from the start. Mr. Kellner had accused a prominent Hasidic cantor, Baruch Lebovits, of molesting his son, and Mr. Kellner helped the district attorney’s office identify other victims, leading to Mr. Lebovits’s conviction in March 2010.

But four months later, one victim who testified against Mr. Lebovits before a grand jury told prosecutors that he had testified only because Mr. Kellner paid him $10,000. Prosecutors turned around and won the indictment of Mr. Kellner, using the original accuser, now an adult, as their key witness in the new case. Mr. Kellner was also charged with trying to extort $400,000 from the Lebovits family to keep other children from making accusations.

The filing of charges against Mr. Kellner prompted criticism from advocates for victims of sexual abuse who viewed him as a whistle-blower. 

It also undermined the conviction of Mr. Lebovits, which had been a high-profile achievement of the district attorney’s campaign to persuade members of the insular Hasidic community to cooperate with authorities in such cases.

Mr. Lebovits’s lawyers used the Kellner prosecution and other issues to have the conviction overturned. Mr. Lebovits had already served one year of a minimum
10-year sentence.


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