A “notorious” alleged chasidic sex abuser, who was sentenced to up to 32 years in jail but got that verdict overturned because of a prosecution violation, has all but admitted on tape to sexually abusing the young man who testified against him, The Jewish Week has learned.
The tape, according to police documents, was made under the supervision of NYPD Det. Steve Litwin in September 2008 and captures a secretly recorded conversation between Baruch Lebovits and one of his alleged victims.
The tape was translated from the Yiddish — both apparently informally and by a certified translator — into English for the prosecution.
It was not, however, introduced at Lebovits’ 2010 trial. (Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has pledged to retry Lebovits and his next court date is scheduled for Nov. 19.)
Multiple e-mails to Hynes’ spokespeople seeking an explanation for why the tape was not used at trial, and whether it will be used in the upcoming retrial, were not answered.
During the recorded conversation, a transcript of which was obtained by The Jewish Week, the victim alerts Lebovits to the fact that others, including someone in Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s office, had heard that something “happened between us.”
(In 2008, Hikind did a series of radio shows on the topic of sexual abuse in the Orthodox community and was inundated with calls from victims seeking his help; Hikind has confirmed to The Jewish Week that the young man on the recording did share his allegations against Lebovits with his office.)
On the tape, the alleged victim asks Lebovits, “You didn’t tell anyone what went on between us?” to which Lebovits replies, “I didn’t say anything.” The alleged victim then goes on to speculate about who may have given this information to Hikind’s office, suggesting it could have been another boy “who was then in the car together with us” and “saw the incident.” (Police records show that Lebovits allegedly often molested boys in the front seat of his car, at times with another boy present in the back seat).
According to the informal translation, written in Litwin’s hand, Lebovits replies that the other boy “wasn’t present,” to which the alleged victim responds, “You don’t remember.
Yes he was present.” At that point, Lebovits instructs the alleged victim to “go ask [the boy] if he gave out [the alleged victim’s] name.” (These comments do not appear in the certified translation, which was done by a non-native chasidic Yiddish speaker and in which a number of lines of dialogue are described as “unintelligible.”)
Later in the conversation, after the alleged victim tells Lebovits that the case may be “given over to the police,” Lebovits tells the young man to “deny it.”
When asked about the recorded conversation, Lebovits’ appellate lawyer, Nathan Dershowitz, confirmed for The Jewish Week that the DA did disclose to the defense a transcript of a September 2008 conversation, which Dershowitz characterized as “innocuous.” From Dershowitz’s response, it is unclear whether the defense made its own translation of the tape, or even received an actual copy of the tape from prosecutors. (Arthur Aidala, Lebovits’ trial attorney, did not respond to an e-mail from The Jewish Week seeking information about the recording).
According to former Manhattan prosecutor and defense attorney Mark Bederow, “There may be reasons why the DA would not introduce the recording [at trial],” but that does not explain why the DA [apparently] did not disclose the recording to the defense.”
“A recording made of the defendant at the behest of the police must be disclosed to the defense irrespective of whether the DA intends to introduce it at trial,” Bederow continued. “I have never heard of a situation in which defense counsel, aware of his client being recorded at the behest of police, simply relied on a transcript prepared by the DA rather than demanding production of the actual recording.”
Bederow added: “As transcribed [by the prosecution’s translators], the recording appears to have significant evidentiary value to the prosecution. Innocent men generally don’t speak in the manner attributed to Lebovits in the recording, and a jury hearing a defendant voluntarily incriminate himself in his own voice in a non-coercive atmosphere is powerful evidence.”
Indeed, the district attorney’s case against Baruch Lebovits has been plagued with problems throughout its five-and-a-half year history. And questions about the office’s handling of it have emerged amid controversy about Hynes’ diligence in prosecuting haredi sex offenders and those who would intimidate and tamper with victims.
Initially, prosecutors had three within-the-statute-of-limitations witnesses against Lebovits, all of whom had sought and obtained rabbinic backing to report their abuse to the police.
One of those witnesses abruptly dropped out of the case before trial, and there is substantial evidence to indicate that he was intimidated into doing so by Lebovits’ supporters. (Despite this, prosecutors never sought to bring witness-tampering charges against the individuals involved in the intimidation).
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