The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office possessed compelling evidence that the allegations lodged by a key witness against chasidic abuse whistleblower Sam Kellner were false, but used that testimony to indict Kellner anyway, The Jewish Week has learned.
This evidence, known to the district attorney over a year before Kellner’s arrest, was given to his lawyers only last week.
These new revelations bolster existing evidence that in the Kellner case, the district attorney may have allowed one division of the office (Rackets) to use highly questionable evidence to undermine the work of another (Sex Crimes), apparently in the service of a convicted child molester whose lawyers have close ties to Hynes.
Prosecutors were set to dismiss Kellner’s case last month, but were overruled by DA Charles Hynes’ controversial Rackets chief, Michael Vecchione. The case is now scheduled for trial on Jan. 21. Vecchione is resigning this week.
In 2008, Kellner’s son was allegedly molested by Baruch Lebovits. Kellner reported the incident to law enforcement and, with the encouragement of a sex crimes detective, found and brought two additional alleged Lebovits victims forward. One of them, “MT” (previously referred to by The Jewish Week as “Yoel”), abruptly stopped cooperating with the prosecution. Another alleged Lebovits victim, “YR” (previously referred to as “Zev”), did testify against Lebovits.
As a result of that testimony, Lebovits was convicted in March of 2010 of sexual abuse and sentenced to 10 to 32 years in prison. (The conviction was reversed on appeal because of a prosecution violation; a new trial was ordered, but has yet to occur).
In 2011, a year after Lebovits’ conviction, Kellner was arrested on charges that he had paid MT to falsely testify years earlier to a grand jury that he had been repeatedly orally and anally sodomized by Lebovits.
Kellner was also charged with having attempted to extort money from the Lebovits family in exchange for a promise that he would persuade the witnesses to drop their cases against Lebovits.
The arrest came as a shock to Kellner, who learned when he was taken into custody that he had already been indicted; this meant that Kellner was not able to present critical exculpatory evidence (much of it in the DA’s possession) to the the grand jury.
Law enforcement records show that members of the Lebovits family, their lawyers and supporters brought the evidence against Kellner directly to the Rackets Division in the months after Lebovits’ conviction.
A July story in The New York Times noted that Lebovits trial attorney Arthur Aidala — a former Brooklyn prosecutor who has been a campaign manager and contributor to Hynes, as well as the vice president of Hynes’ nonprofit foundation — is considered by some in the DA’s office to have “undue” influence with Hynes.
Last May, Lebovits’ appellate attorney, Alan Dershowitz, co-authored a letter with attorney Ben Brafman to the investigative news site Pro Publica praising Vecchione, who is facing serious allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Lebovits’ lawyers apparently used Kellner’s arrest to persuade an appeals court to release Lebovits to house arrest pending his appeal. They also used the criminal charges against Kellner — for which they had furnished most of the evidence — to move to vacate Lebovits’ guilty verdict, based on the “newly discovered” Kellner evidence. (This motion became moot when the verdict was reversed on appeal.)
The district attorney submitted a response defending the Lebovits conviction. The Jewish Week requested a copy of it, which is part of the public record, from the DA in September, but received no answer.
However, two sworn statements submitted to the court as part of the district attorney’s response were provided to Kellner’s lawyers last week by a prosecutor unconnected to Kellner’s case. They were subsequently shared with The Jewish Week.
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