On Friday morning, March 25 I put out a series of posts covering developments for Nechemya Weberman as they unfolded in court. I have since gathered more information and clarified some of my earlier information. For the convenience of my readers I am putting everything I know about that day together in this post as well as its background, the factors in the high turnout of supporters, and action calls for follow-up. I plan a separate post summing up the state of the Dascalowitz case.
The Charges Against Nechemya Weberman
Just to recap, on February 23, Nechemya Weberman was arrested, arraigned in Kings County Criminal Court, and released on $15,000 cash bail. The arraignment specified multiple charges of sexually abusing a Hasidic girl in Williamsburg, starting when she was twelve years old and continuing until she was 15. The next day I was the first to note his active role in the vaad hatznius (modesty committee) which is how he first got involved in the life of this girl. Three days after his arrest, Pablo Guzmán reported that other victims of Weberman were expected to come forward. I followed up with a post urging potential witnesses to call the NYPD Sex Crimes Unit.
Weberman returned to Criminal Court on March 9. However, the day before, the Office of the Kings County District Attorney unsealed an indictment with 150 felony charges. This shifted his case to the Kings County Supreme Court for his appearance on Friday, March 25th.
In Who Will Watch the Watchers? I reported on a regular extortion racket of the vaad hatznius in Williamsburg and other hasidic communities. A member of the vaad would tell an individual or family that they faced embarrassment and serious loss of social status because of some infraction of the modesty code. The Vaad would then ask for payments of anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000 for “therapy” and other expenses. The vaad would select the “therapist” who might be a member of the vaad himself, like Weberman. Sometimes it was Yaakov Yagen, a “torah therapist,” who worked out of Weberman’s Classon Avenue office. I urge those who have not yet read Who Will Watch the Watchers? to check it out. I also urge everyone to steer clear of unlicensed “therapists.”
Why So Many People Came Out to Support the Victim
Weberman’s role in the Vaad made his prosecution the most important one to date. Many of us worked very hard to encourage supporters of the victim to attend the court session on March 25th.
As it happened, Meir Dascalowitz also had a court appearance about his sex abuse charge,s scheduled for the same day, in the same building. I did a posting about the “Double Header” urging people to attend, divide themselves equally between courtrooms, and to move to the other courtroom when the first appearance was over. Voice of Justice crafted a shorter press release, drawing on my longer article. The heavily viewed Failed Messiah carried that press release the day before the appearances. The Dascalowitz case also had its special advocates, especially since concerns arose in late November 2010 about whether he might be offered a plea bargain without any time in prison. Joel Engelman, Pearl Engelman and Asher Lipner conducted a press conference on December 6, 2010, to reject a soft plea bargain. Endorsers of the press conference included: JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment, the Jewish Board of Advocates for Children, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, The Voice of Justice, and Jewish Parents for Safe Yeshivas. On the day of that press conference, for the first time, the District Attorney’s office informed WPIX, Channel 11’s reporter, Mary Murphy, that Dascalowitz would not be offered a plea deal with less than five years of prison.
After Dascalowitz appeared in court on February 23, Pearl Engelman wrote a poignant, eloquent portrait of the court date from the point of view of the harassed family of Dascalowitz’s victim. On March 2, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz followed with an impassioned appeal for attendance at the Dascalowitz hearing to support the victim and his family. Rabbi Horowitz also began collecting messages of support to deliver to the family. He followed up with an article in the Jewish Press.
All these factors converged to create the largest group of Jewish courtroom supporters of an ultra orthodox victim of sex abuse. About 50 people showed up. They divided unevenly, but most went to the Weberman courtroom. Some moved between the courtrooms. About 45 people were at the Weberman appearance since it happened after the Dascalowitz session. After the courtroom filled up, the latecomers had to wait outside. The early bird gets the worm, or this case, got to see the worm squirm. However, the half of the attendees stuck in the hallway got to greet old colleagues and make new connections. The attendees included Rabbi Horowitz, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, Rabbi Dr. Asher Lipner, JBAC President, Elliot Passik, Mark Appel, Mark Weiss, Pinny Taub, Beth Kaplan, several undergraduates who responded to a call by the YU Social Justice Society and other important members of the advocacy community. There were many survivors and citizen supporters and this was the first time in court for some of them.
What Happened in the Hallway Before the Courtroom Was Opened
Weberman (in the center of the picture) was accompanied by five relatives: his wife (who is wearing a hat and holding a camera in the picture), his brother, his son, Yanki, his sister Nechama Shimon, and his sister, Hindi Kohn, assistant Director of David Niederman’s United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. Weberman also used to work for Niederman, who is considered the most important political figure in Hasidic Williamsburg.
As they were sitting there, Joseph Diangello (aka Yoeli Deutsch) a publicly self identified survivor of abuse, walked up to Weberman, took his picture, and went back to the supporter cluster. He told the group that now that he saw him, he was sure that Weberman was the man who molested him when he was eleven or twelve. At that time, Weberman worked for Joseph’s father, Simon Deutsch, at Compu Service. After the confrontation, according to two other observers Weberman lost all composure, his face went slack and colorless, and his shoulders slumped.
At the same time, Weberman’s relatives were taking pictures of Hasidim attending as supporters. The motive was intimidation and harassment. They weren’t interested in Nuchem Rosenberg’s picture because he seems to be immune to such social pressure. Instead they photographed people who would rather not be harassed in their home communities for taking the unpopular position of supporting the criminal prosecution of an alleged molester. These pictures, probably taken on a Blackberry, were circulating in online discussion groups and listserves with crude insinuations. I know of two Hasidim who were contacted by concerned relatives less than 20 minutes after the photographs were taken. The relatives urged them to get out of the spotlight. It was uncomfortable for them and they expected to get harassed when they got back to their neighborhoods. But they felt strongly that they were doing the right thing and held to their course. As one of them said, “I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am there to protect Jewish girls. The shanda (disgrace) is that so many people are afraid to speak up.” These erlich chasidim will be educating some of their peers in their neighborhoods when they defend their decision to be in the courtroom.
He Rejects Plea Bargain/ Lawyers Skirmish About the Search Warrant
The formal court appearance was short, definitely less than ten minutes. Judge Patricia DiMango
Miriam Cyrulnik asked Weberman if he wanted to accept the prosecution plea bargain offer of five years in prison. Weberman stuck to his not guilty plea. He should have thought about Baruch Lebovits who got 10-32 years after a trial when he could have had gotten off with just 1-2 years. Lebovits will probably die in jail. If Lebovits had accepted the plea bargain he would be celebrating this Passover with his family. As I wrote at the time, Lebovits got 31 years for not saying he was sorry.
Weberman will not get a better plea deal and will probably get a much longer sentence if convicted in trial. Lebovits was only convicted on eight D felony counts. Weberman is charged 145 D felonies and a much more serious B felony. Delaying a plea bargain will work against Weberman. District Attorneys offer their best deals at the beginning of a case because it saves them a lot of time and work and eliminates the risk of an acquittal by a jury. DAs will usually accept plea bargains later, sometimes right before a trial starts. But the terms of the deal get stiffer as a case progresses and the work piles up. This is especially true when more witnesses start coming forward which may happen according to reporter Pablo Guzmán of CBS. If you are going to plead guilty, you are best off doing it quickly.
Weberman’s lawyer, George Farkas, skirmished with the Assistant District Attorney about whether the government overstepped its authority when it searched his apartment for evidence. Both sides agreed that there was a proper warrant for a search, but they disagreed about the exact scope of the warrant. The ADA chose not to argue the point at length, since the search in dispute did not uncover any useful evidence.
The next court date is currently set for May 11th at 9:00 am.
FOLLOW UP ACTION STEPS
Save-The-Date, Wednesday May 11th in your calendar. Recheck the Date at the Yasher Koach Website as it gets closer. Scheduled court appearances are sometimes postponed. You can get notifications of schedule changes by registering at the New York State ecourts website.
Write Messages of Support to Victims and Their Families by going here. For the moment, Yasher Koach, which just unveiled its initiative and website a few weeks ago, only has a general message field for any victim. So if you are writing to a specific victim, be sure to specify the case on top of your message.
Call the Police if You Have Information That Can Help This Investigation at (718) 230-4418 and ask for Detective Steven Litwin. Call even if the incidents happened so long ago that they are no longer punishable and even if the incidents happened outside Brooklyn or even the United States.