Why Is Yosef Kolko Trying To Withdraw His Guilty Plea?

Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko

Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko

I believe that Kolko’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea will fail and is being driven by the ulterior motives of his advisor, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky

According to the Asbury Park Press, 37-year-old Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko’s September 6th sentencing was postponed when his new lawyer informed that court that he would be submitting a motion to void his guilty plea. Judge Francis R. Hodgson “scheduled a hearing on the motion for Oct. 17. If Zegas doesn’t convince the judge to allow his client to withdraw his guilty plea, Hodgson will proceed to sentence Kolko that day, according to court officials.”

Back on May 13 we thought the question of Rabbi (sic) Yosef Kolko’s guilt was settled by his mid-trial guilty plea.  If ever there was a schmendrik (inept guy) it is Kolko who pleaded guilty when it was too late to have the charges reduced. He probably did it because he finally realized the jury was extremely likely to vote to convict. Days one and two of the testimony went very well for the prosecutor.  The victim and his father convincingly described the crimes and a tape recording of an apparent confession was played to the jury. His attorney, Michael F. Bachner, asked a few questions but did not come up with any significant challenges. The next few days were going to be worse for Kolko in the eyes of both the jury and the orthodox community. Several distinguished rabbis in Lakewood were expected to testify that they too heard Kolko confess to the abusive acts. Their testimony was also going to confirm that a Beit Din (rabbinical court) concluded Kolko was guilty but convinced the father to not immediately report Kolko’s crimes because Kolko agreed to go into therapy and stop working with children. In addition, the therapist, Gavriel Fagin was going to testify that based on his testing and interactions with Kolko he also found the charges against him convincing. Thus, the testimony coming next was going to destroy Kolko’s ability to claim he was falsely convicted by a jury of gentiles. Now it was also going to become clear that key figures inside the Lakewood community believed Kolko was guilty.

Kolko’s situation got even worse because two more victims of Kolko came forward and were willing to testify. It is possible he could not been charged with those crimes because they were out of the statute of limitations or because they occurred in another jurisdiction such as New York. Nevertheless it is a safe bet that the judge was probably going to accept the prosecutor’s motion to allow their testimony to establish his pattern of abuse. Again this would have hurt him both in the eyes of the jury and in the eyes of the orthodox community.

As a result, Kolko agreed to plead guilty to all seven charges (which included oral sex, attempted anal penetration and other offenses). Defense counsel Bachner stipulated that this was on the condition that no additional charges would be brought against Kolko and this condition was accepted by all parties. If the charges by the additional witnesses were not prosecutable this was probably showboating by the lawyer to make the guilty plea look like a good deal. In return for pleading guilty to all of the initial charges, the prosecution agreed to sentencing in the range of 5-15 years instead of the forty years which he could have gotten. Kolko could probably have done better than that by pleading guilty before the trial. He might have gotten the charges reduced and a shorter sentencing range.

Now, his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea will probably cost him a sentence at the high end of the 5-15 year range. Most attempts to withdraw pleas fail, but the attempt shows that Kolko is unable or unwilling to admit that he is guilty. This is a major factor in determining whether someone is likely to reoffend. That is a major factor in sentencing, especially for sex offenders.

Why did Kolko change his plea and what is he likely to claim. The fact that he hired a new attorney, Alan L Zegas, suggests he will claim ineffective counsel. This is common and usually unsuccessful unless the lawyer actually was incompetent. I assume Lakewood’s askanim (activists), led by Mickey Rottenberg, carefully vetted the attorney. Because attorney’s realize that unhappy defendants often turn on them they usually write up their advisories with the boilerplate list of factors the client must consider in accepting a plea (e.g., see this California form for a list of considerations of which the defendant must be advised and acknowledge before a guilty plea is accepted). Whether or not New Jersey has such a form, all these considerations would have been shared with Kolko.

When Kolko submitted his guilty plea, the judge quizzed him on all these points. This is standard judicial protocol to prevent defendants from turning around and trying to retract their guilty please. According to Katie Zezima of the Associated Press (AP) Wire Service when Judge Francis R. Hodgson asked Kolko if he had received any promises or was threatened or coerced in exchange for his plea, Kolko answered softly that there were things that were “not part of the court system.” This led to a lot of speculation at the time that the Lakewood establishment pressured him to plead guilty to avoid having public evidence that leading Lakewood rabbis defied the pressure from Rabbis Malkiel and Aaron Kotler to not support the victim and his father. After all, the Lakewood establishment hounded the family of the victim out of town and got nine rabbis to issue a public statement criticizing the family for bring the case to the civil authorities. This may be true, but it does not constitute the kind of pressure that justifies withdrawing a guilty plea. It is understood that a defendant has to weigh competing considerations and advice. It is assumed that the defendant is an adult and is taking the plea as the best of a lousy set of alternatives.

Rabbi (sic) Yehudah Kolko

Rabbi (sic) Yehudah Kolko

I strongly suspect that Yosef Kolko is once again taking bad advice from Rabbi Yisroel Belsky. Belsky is the only one likely to benefit from this maneuver. Belsky is all-in on the absurd claim that Kolko is innocent. For reasons I do not understand, Belsky has been defending Kolko molesters for over 40 years going back to when Yosef’s Uncle Yehuda was staff at Camp Agudah in the late 60s. Belsky aggressively defended Yehudah Kolko as blogger UOJ and others raised Kolko’s misconduct as a teacher at Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn. Uncle Yehudah eventually was forced out of that position and got a sweetheart plea deal from Brooklyn DA Joe Hynes of no jail time and not being placed on the sex offender registry. Belsky still insists Yehudah Kolko is innocent.

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky

Rabbi Yisroel Belsky

Belsky ordained Yosef Kolko around 2001. When there were rumblings about his behavior in Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, Belsky vouched for him and helped him get jobs working with kids in Lakewood as both a teacher and a camp counselor. Belsky was the single most aggressive rabbi attacking the family of Yosef Kolko’s victim, even accusing the victim’s father of being the one who molested his son. Following the guilty plea, Belsky continued to claim Kolko was innocent.

This has created serious problems for the Orthodox Union (OU) where he is a Senior Posek (Jew Law Authority) for their very important kosher division. When the plea was announced, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) had a hard time issuing a statement jointly with the  OU because they had to reconcile their support of the verdict with Belsky’s continued insistence on Kolko’s innocence and they came up with an awkward compromise. As a result pressure is building to dump Belsky as the OU Posek. Rabbi Heshie Billet, former President of the RCA, has publicly called for Belsky’s removal. I suspect Belsky is trying to bolster his case for Kolko’s innocence through this maneuver. It is absurd and will probably cost Kolko an extra decade in jail. But heck, that is not Belsky’s problem. Kolko is a schmendrik for taking advice from Belsky but Yisroel Belsky is a bonafide gangster enabler of sexual abuse and a most untrustworthy advisor.

If You Want to Attend Sentencing

Yosef Kolko is scheduled to be sentence on October 17 (tentatively set for 1:30 p.m.) in the Civil Division of the Superior Court, Courtroom 16/ 120 Hooper Ave/ Toms River, NJ 08753/ (732) 929-4780 (case # 10-06-1181i). Judge Francis Hodgson is presiding. Because court dates can change at the last minute I urge readers to call and confirm the court date before going.

If You Want Background on This Case

Hella Winston has written an in-depth account of how Lakewood’s rabbinical leaders dealt with this case and how the dominant leadership faction tried to cover it up.

Survivors for Justice has a page on the Yosef Kolko case (as distinct from the case of his uncle, Yehuda (Joel) Kolko). The page has links to key documents generated by Kolko’s supporters (including Yisroel Belsky) and to some other news accounts.

Other bloggers addressing this case include Harry Maryles  on his blog, Emes Ve-Emunah (The Moral Authority of Lakewood), and Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn on his blog, Daas Torah (Why the Lakewood Establishment is Scared). Daas Torah has a number of other important posts on the Jewish law and Lakewood communal aspects of this case. Rabbi Eidensohn periodically updates his coverage.

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13 thoughts on “Why Is Yosef Kolko Trying To Withdraw His Guilty Plea?

  1. Don’t forget that Belsky also encouraged Torah Temimah’s former in-house shrink Dr. Tuvya Chaim Charles “Bungalow Putz” Neuhoff, Psy D, to start the infamous blog attacking Kolko critics. His nickname “Bungalow Putz” was given to him by UOJ and it stuck, resonating with the public due to Neuhoff’s silly surveys taken regarding Kolko at Fallsburg bungalow colonies.

    Neuhoff resigned from Torah Temimah after being outed as the author of the blog, but not before assigning the curse “shem reshoyim yirkav” on the blog to Kolko critics

    Neuhoff is a friend of Gil Student which is why Gilligan was initially talking out of both sides of his mouth on molestation

  2. Yerachmiel, your reporting on this story has been superb. There is a large community out here that awaits everyone of your postings, they are always masterpieces.

    I have to disagree with the premise of the post- “Why I Yosef Kolko Trying To Withdraw His Guilty Plea?”.

    The implication of such a question, is that this attempt to withdraw the guilty plea is out of character. Nothing can be farther from the truth!!!

    The only thing out of character from this character (ptp) was when he finally did plead guilty!!!

    For years he was offered tens of deals, in the beginning with no jail time, and he wouldn’t hear from them. His most ardent supporters begged him to grab these deals, and he wouldn’t listen!!

    At one point all his biggest supporters met with him and told him to accept what was being offered to him at the time, he walked out, and never spoke to them again!!!! Please understand some of those present at that meeting literally gave up their share in the world-to-come for him(Kolko), by publicly embarrassing a prominent and respectful family.

    The correct question here is why, against all odds, has he been resisting a plea for so many years!!

    Who knows? Maybe he’s taking it out of his uncles playbook; deny, deny, deny, deny, and you’ll get away with it.

    Lets face it- his uncle was/is “active” for over THIRTY YEARS and is scott free, and this relative a relative (ptp) newcomer is facing a minimum of 15 years!!! I’m sure the irony of this lopsided justice hasn’t escaped any of the Kolkos.

    • “Concerned,”

      Thank you for your comment and the additional confirmation that even many who tormented and harassed the victim family begged Kolko to plead guilty. This would have been better for Kolko and better for the reputation of the Lakewood leadership. Belsky on the other hand always argued that Kolko should not plead guilty. Belsky was never worried about Kolko’s best interests, just Belsky’s reputation in defending Kolkos.

      Up until the trial, Belsky, Kolko, and Mickey Rottenberg kept hoping that the witness would drop out or a corrupt DA would cut a deal. Of course, unfortunately for Kolko, Ocean County is not Brooklyn and the prosecutor did not have to worry about block votes, especially since NJ prosecutors are appointed, not elected. Even worse for Kolko, Rabbi S is a true erlich (pious) Jew who knew he had a responsibility to protect children, even if it cost him expulsion from the city where he spent his whole adult life as one of its great talmidei chachamim (rabbinical scholars).

      Yosef Kolko, like many molesters has a hard time admitting to the world what he admitted to a number of individuals, that he is a chiild molester. Yet, on the third day of the trial he realized the jig was up and pleaded guilty. It is impossible to believe that any attorney promised he good odds on withdrawing his guilty plea. Yet he did it. Perhaps in desparation as he finally contemplates five years in jail. Certainly by now he has to have admitted the truth to his family or they have figured it out.

      So he may be a stubborn guy who again thinks denial will work, just as it worked all those years. Yet I am inclined to think even his family wants him out of jail sooner. Belsky on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about how long Yosef sits in the dungeons, just how he can hold onto his job at the OU. Perhaps I am wrong and I am underestimating Yosef’s desperate, wishful thinking that he can escape prison time. But if so, I am inclined to believe it is under the influence of Belsky.

      I do have one other theory. Even with his guilty plea, Yosef Kolko was going to have to show evidence of recognizing his own history to get sentenced on the low end. Normally, he could have gotten some sympathy from the court if he said he was started on his path by being molested by his Uncle Yiddi. Once that fact filtered back to Yiddi, his uncle together with Belsky perhaps influenced the rest of his family to pile up on him to try and withdraw the plea. Again, if they all did that they were deciding to have Yossi sit an extra ten years just for the sake of a fragment of plausible deniability. I believe the motion will clarify some of these issues. Yet more will become clear when he finally does come up for sentencing and we see what he says by way of admissions to reduce his sentence.

      • Maybe somebody else can confirm…
        But I’m pretty sure, at the end (right before the trial), even Rottenberg was urging him to accept the generous offers being made to him.

        With Belsky too, he is unlikely to be advising him day to day. I don’t say this to clear Belsky in any way. There is no question that Belsky was the one that originally emboldened him. Until belsky got involved he was going to therapy and working with serious individuals for rehab. All that stopped due to Belsky.

        I agree with you, Belsky’s ridiculous and cruel behavior at the onset is very likely because Yosef & Yehudah Kolko share the same last name. But aside from not retracting the infamous letter I doubt he was involved regularly.

        This discussion is important in understanding how molesters think.

        It seems at some point they give up on having a regular normal life. They think, rightly or wrongly, that even after they come out if jail they will be total outcasts. The only thing they have left to fight for, is respect from they’re family members. Family members have suffered great disgrace themselves, and personally had great damage from an insistence that it goes to trial and gets out in public. They fear the family will disown them too!! While the family is “nebach” stuck in a fight they don’t want, the molester feels he must provide for them something faintly plausible.

        At some point the decision has to be made, 25 years in jail with visits or 10 without visits.They seem to calculate 25 years with regular family visits is better.

        • You raise a good point. Yes, many molesters feel that as long as they refuse to plead guilty they can sustain the myth of their innocence in the eyes of a few people close to them. Of course, Yossi started out with the advantage of a sympathetic Uncle Yiddi (who is probably the one who groomed Yossi into becoming a molester)

          I called Yossi a Schmendrik because he ended up with the worst of all worlds, the guilty plea which everyone will remember, no matter what he now says, and the longest possible sentence.

  3. I agree with you on the “shmendrick” part, But primarily for a different reason…

    He knew how righteous, selfless, and Ehrlich the father of the victim is. He saw how the father dealt with him with unbelievable “gevurah” (restraint). To then allow the Torah universe to try to crush the family, is a real shmendrick!! Now all of us that have place in our hearts to pity molesters, have no room for him!!

    • I agree with a proviso. Virtually every arrested frum molester who gets off the hook depends on rabbanim and askanim intimidating the victims. Yes, Rabbi S was an especially worthy person. But it is just as much of an injustice when done to some less talented or distinguished person.

      Sadly, I have never encountered a molester who said, “I am not willing to save my skin at the expense of the victim’s wellbeing and reputation.” Yet most frum molesters could get pretty good plea bargains and spare the victim’s family.

      Yet, the same flaw that makes molesters exploit others has them continue on that path when they are caught. Yes they are sick, but they are also major mazikim (ones who cause harm).

      • There are a number of things that make this case unique….

        The most important of which is, the way the father dealt with kolko himself. After confronting kolko himself, he only wanted to insure that it wouldn’t happen again.

        All he demanded was that he goes for therapy and DOESN’T continue teaching the FOLLOWING YEAR!!

        He didn’t even inform the school where kolko was teaching at the time, until kolko insisted on applying for a counselor job for the following summer!!

        In short, the family was in no way out for blood or revenge. This was not a case where the molester had to save his skin, and he knew that. He could of quietly changed his “career path” and no one would be the wiser.

        This is not a case of someone drowning, that grabs on anything to save himself.

        It was totally a fight he elected (with the generous help of Belsky) to have, for his own selfish convenience!!

        When you lose a fight like that, you make it into the shmendrick hall of fame!!!

  4. What I don’t understand about your hypothesis is why Rav Belsky should have such “clout” that Kolko would have first taken Belsky’s advice not to plead guilty over the advice of (apparently) everyone else, and then, having “seen the light” (albeit a bit late), decided to take Belsky’s advice after all and ran back into the darkness.

    I understand why Belsky would like Kolko’s guilty plea to go away, but why should Kolko take Belsky’s advice now? Belsky is not a wonder-working “tzaddik”; does he nevertheless have charismatic influence over Kolko? Or does Kolko believe Belsky is a “wonder-working rasha,” who can arrange for the judge to allow Kolko to withdraw his plea and grant bail, and then arrange for Kolko to flee to Israel? Might Kolko believe Belsky can make witnesses disappear or recant so that he can’t be retried? Belsky may have a “gangster” mentality. But could Kolko plausibly think Belsky has that kind of power – power that has noticeably failed to materialize? I doubt that Belsky is behind this move.

    I also question “concerned’s” hypothesis. Why would Kolko anticipate 10 years without visits if he pleads guilty? Assuming that Kolko’s family continues to believe he is innocent (which seems unlikely, but who knows), why should a guilty plea change that? If they blindly accept his innocence now, why wouldn’t they blindly accept the rationale that he pleaded guilty only to escape a harsher sentence?

    I’ll hazard a more prosaic explanation. As you explained, it is extremely unlikely that Kolko will be allowed to withdraw his plea, and surely he has been advised of that. But by seeking to vacate his plea before the trial-court proceeding becomes final with his sentencing, Kolko will leave open the possibility of appealing his conviction and will face a lower barrier to post-conviction relief.

    Although the possibility of success either way would be miniscule to none, Kolko isn’t giving up anything worth more in exchange for it. True, now he can’t claim at his sentencing that he feels remorse and accepts responsibility for his offenses, but given the circumstances of his plea, that claim would be incredible anyway. His credibility already gone, Kolko may just be sparing no expense in doing everything possible that might conceivably help him attack his conviction in the future. (A new attorney for a plea-withdrawal motion is standard procedure (unless the defendant presents the motion pro se), since the attorney who advised the defendant in connection with the plea would be attacking his own ethics or competence in asserting a right to withdraw it.)

    • “Kevin in Chicago,”

      I accept your premise that the motion preserves a possibility of appeal, however miniscule. However, I would not minimize the cost. It makes it likely he will be sentenced at the high end of 5-15 years. Contrary to your assertion I believe he could have gotten the low end of 5 years with proper remorse. This case is unusual in several respects relevant to sentencing. Rabbi S, the father of the victim was never interested in being punitive. He just wanted Kolko to accept responsibility and stay away from kids. I realize that this is a case between the state and Kolko. Nevertheless the prosecutor would be inclined to defer to Rabbi S because they have been desperate to finally crack abuse in the Lakewood orthodox community. I think they would be willing to bend to make the outcome more palatable to that world. I believe the prosecutor is more interested in securing support for prosecutions than in maximizing the sentence, especially if it can be justified by remorse and by support of victim and his family. obviously, now all bets are off on that approach.

      Belsky’s influence comes from his extraordinary reputation as a genius, his protective relationship to the Kolko family over 40 years, his personal relationship to Yosef Kolko who he ordained, and protected from previous scandals, and his willingness to stick by Kolko with the OU/RCA even after he pled guilty.

      Belsky has had the full confidence of Yosef Kolko at every stage, so much so that he had access to information only know to Yosef and was allowed access to Gavriel Fagin’s testing. Yosef Kolko has no one else of that caliber and feistiness sticking up for him.

      It is not surprising that this hapless loser had buyer’s remorse about his plea bargain. An advisor on his side would have urged him to suck it up and live with it. But Belsky, while disguising his motives could easily be persuasive with a mediocre, weak-willed schmendrik in crisis.

      Just as one example of Belsky’s mystique was his being featured in haredi publications claiming to have disproved the mathematical basis of the CDC’s claim that MBP significantly raises the risk of herpes. He is incredibly bright. But he also is seen as a genius in many circles.

      • “BUT” “he is also seen as a genius in many circles”. Well, genius, b’safek ANAK, but a tsaddik, well, based on Yehuda’s violations of all Jewish laws, would one not think that a genius Tsaddik such as this schmuck,schlemazel, schmegegge,schmendrick, schnook. schmo, schlub, yutz, putz, MOMZER, would have watched out for the soul, the neshamah of Yosef, knowing his genetic predisposition and perhaps knowing about some putative abuse by Yehuda of Yosef, misken as victim, would not this genius gaon, gadol hadorot, have been a guiding light over Yosef Hamisken, being as he was, so close to the family, how could he have not known, Ooops, forgot he claims they are both innocent, which frankly, being such a bizarre assertion, leads to several hypotheses, Aleph that Belsky, is not only not a genius but a cretin, or beit, Belsky has skeletons in his closet perhaps even closely tied to Yehuda. Bears forensic examination.

      • I respectfully disagree that an assertion of remorse at Kolko’s sentencing would have meant anything. If the prosecution wants to encourage reporting abuse by not recommending the maximum sentence, it has discretion to do that, even after the motion to withdraw the plea has been made (and denied). And the judge would have had discretion to impose a sentence in excess of the recommendation even if Kolko had not moved to withdraw his plea.

        Kolko had more than three years to repent, but didn’t “repent” until after his victim had been required to recount on the stand the story of his relationship with Kolko and had been subjected to cross-examination in which, as you reported, Kolko’s attorney argued that the victim had invented the allegations of abuse because he had been caught stealing. Surely it was obvious to the judge that Kolko is a manipulator (as reflected in both the crime and his efforts to avoid punishment), that he cares for no one but himself, and that he pleaded guilty only in the face of the certainty of conviction and the likelihood of more charges. Were I the judge, I would see a claim of remorse under these circumstances as a shameless lie and, if anything, grounds for a harsher sentence.

        Since I believe Kolko gave up nothing of value in withdrawing his plea, I wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that the withdrawal was contemplated when the plea was entered. Assuming the motion to withdraw would be denied, which would have been a safe bet, the strategy would allow Kolko to retain the principal benefit of the plea, i.e., no further charges, while maintaining “deniability” (however implausible), and a miniscule chance of overturning his conviction. While the motion to withdraw the plea benefits Belsky, I don’t see it as a net detriment to Kolko. Kolko presumably had good lawyers, and Belsky needn’t be seen as exploiting poor “shmendrik” Kolko.

        I know nothing about the relationship between Belsky and Kolko, but although the former is surely much more intelligent, it’s not impossible that he was duped by Kolko. You suggested that Kolko may have himself been abused as a child. I understand that abused children can become skilled at slipping into an alternative reality in which unpleasant truths don’t exist and never happened. When the unthinkable becomes routine, so does unthinking it. Victims can become like improv actors slipping into and out of familiar roles, which makes them more convincing than ordinary liars. Why shouldn’t that psychological survival skill carry over when he found himself taking advantage of a boy who was much like he himself had been? Belsky may have believed Kolko — and may have had reasons for needing to believe him, and may have had reasons that made it impossible for him to give up that belief. Or not. It all suggests a giant fungus, with most of it hidden underground. Sorry for the length of this. I need some air.

  5. If he can get out of jail pending a new trial, we won’t see him again. If you’ll recall, he wanted to be free until sentencing. He did not get assessed on jail, though the judge was waiting for that report to make his decision. Although Kolko has a great lawyer now, (who’s paying for him?) the judge will likely give him the full 40 years for his impudence. An appeal will not stand, because he was fully aware of his statement of guilt. The judge asked him if he was coerced to plead guilty, and he stated that it has nothing to do with the court system. That truth has not changed, and so the guilty plea stands too. See you in 40, pal.

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