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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Incoming Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson inserts himself into Hasidic sex abuse case

Brooklyn District Attorney-elect Kenneth Thompson is seeking a delay until after he takes office in the prosecution of an Orthodox rabbi charged with sexual abuse, according to a letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

In the letter dated Friday, Mr. Thompson asked outgoing District Attorney Charles J. Hynes to direct his prosecutors to put off a court conference scheduled for Tuesday until January in the case of Rabbi Baruch Lebovits.

Jerry Schemetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, acknowledged receipt of the letter, saying the office planned to “comply with Mr. Thompson’s wishes.” He added, however, that there had been “no discussions” with Rabbi Lebovits’s attorneys about a possible plea deal—especially one involving no prison time—and they hadn’t expected the case to be resolved before Mr. Thompson took office in January.

“I don’t know why this is an issue,” Mr. Schmetterer said.

Mr. Thompson didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Rabbi Lebovits, 62 years old, of Borough Park, was convicted in 2010 of engaging in oral sex on eight occasions in 2004 and 2005 with one of his rabbinical students, a 16-year-old boy. He was sentenced to 10 2/3 to 32 years in prison. Two years later, a state appellate court overturned his conviction based on a prosecutorial error.

During his campaign this fall for district attorney, Mr. Thompson made an issue of long-repeated allegations that Mr. Hynes declined to vigorously pursue child sexual-abuse prosecutions involving Orthodox Jewish defendants because the community had backed him politically. In response, Mr. Hynes said his office had prosecuted more Orthodox Jewish defendants than any other prosecutor’s office in the U.S.

“Based on the very serious allegations in the case, I request that no disposition be offered to the defendant, no guilty plea be allowed at the upcoming court conference on November 19, 2013, and that no procedural or substantive steps be taken in the case until I take office,” Mr. Thompson wrote in the letter.

Mr. Thompson also wrote that because Rabbi Lebovits was out on bail, he wouldn’t suffer any “substantive prejudice by this brief delay.”

Rabbi Lebovits’s attorney, Arthur Aidala, didn’t return a call seeking comment.

In April 2012, a state appeals court overturned Rabbi Lebovits’s conviction. It ruled the prosecution failed to turn over notes of a discussion the alleged victim had with a detective after defense attorneys notified prosecutors that the rabbi was going to claim the teenager had made up the charges as part of an extortion plot. According to the appellate decision, the teenager denied trying to extort the rabbi and told the detective that the rabbi had offered to give him money to stop cooperating with the prosecution.

Those notes weren’t turned over to the defense until after the alleged victim testified at trial that the rabbi tried to bribe him, the appellate decision said. The appellate court ruled that by not turning over the notes sooner, the prosecution “precluded the defense from fully and adequately preparing for cross-examination and set a trap” for Rabbi Lebovits.

By Sean Gardiner -

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