Why Rachmonis for Baruch Lebovits is a Dangerous Mistake – From the Archives (3/3/2010)

Baruch Lebovits

Baruch Lebovits

When I first posted this article, Lebovits was freshly convicted. Thanks to prosecutorial incompetence or worse, and maneuvering by Lebovits to get Sam Kellner arrested, the conviction was overturned and Lebovits is due for a retrial. Sam Kellner has been exonerated. ADA Kevin O’Donnell dismissed charges and stated the witnesses against Kellner were not credible. Now it remains to be seen if Lebovits can be convicted again or whether he has succeeded in mucking up his case with witness tampering. It also remains to be seen if Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson will prosecute the Ashkenazi brothers and others who tampered with a number of witnesses. Finally, it remains to be seen if  Thompson will sanction ADAs Nicholas Batsides, Joe Alexis and Miss Gregory who were complicit by incompetence, negligence or worse in the failures to date.  Regardless of the outcome of the Lebovits case, I still stand by my earlier thoughts about the kind of sentence Lebovits deserves.

In an earlier post I urged readers to write a letter to the judge about sentencing and to attend the sentencing to show the community that there are many of us who take the side of the victim.  If you will write a letter, it should be in by April 7. The court date for sentencing is April 12 in Brooklyn. See here for details about things you can do to support the victim and protect our children which have to happen on or before sentencing.

Fifty-nine-year old Baruch (Mordechai) Lebovits was convicted of eight Class D child molestations felonies. Lebovits has had a reputation as a child molester for decades. He is reported to have molested Motty Borger o’hYet these are his first convictions.

Under New York State law each charge carries a sentence of two-and-a-third to four years. The judge can sentence him to the minimum and have him serve all eight sentences concurrently. With time off for good behavior and time off for the period he spent in jail while awaiting sentencing he would be out of jail in 23 months. In theory, the judge could sentence him to 4 years for each charge for a total of 32 years, or with time off for good behavior, for 27 years and 5 months.

I am told he will probably get a sentence of 7-10 years. With time off for good behavior he could be out on the street and molesting again before he is 60 years old. I want a long enough sentence to prevent him from ever molesting again.

Baruch Lebovits could have gotten a plea bargain and served even less than two years. In his arrogance and cruelty he gambled on a trial. He alternately tried bribing witnesses, threatening them, and predicting that one of them would commit suicide. On one occasion when he was arrested he got out within hours of being booked and immediately called up a complainant to announce, “ha ha, I am out!” At the trial he used the tried and proven frum rejoinder, “my accuser is a bum.” To top it off he procured as a false witness a fellow molester, Berel Ashkenazi, assistant principal at Spinka. I want a long enough sentence to discourage this contemptuous attitude among other molesters.

In taking this position he was being rational. Most victims in the frum world never tell anyone. When kids confide in their parents there are still many obstacles to prosecution.  Rabbis and other community leaders usually discourage reporting alternately assuring parents the offenders will be stopped, advising them that pursuing a criminal case will be hurt the shidduch prospects of the victim and his relatives, and threatening them with all sorts of sanctions if they go to the authorities.

In theory the names of complainants are kept confidential. The police and the prosecutor do not list them in public records. The media do not report them. In reality, every one in the community finds out. Then a torrent of harassment is unleashed on the complainant. All too often victims and their families settle for plea bargains with ludicrously short sentences to avoid a trial. After a 38-year molesting career, Yehuda Kolko got a suspended sentence and he was not even placed on the sex offender registry. The few victims who press on and give testimony need to know that their efforts are not wasted. I want a sentence long enough to validate the victims with the courage to pursue these cases.

Perhaps some day victims will usually complain and offenders will be routinely charged and curbed early in their molesting careers. Perhaps we will reach the point that shorter sentences will be enough to protect our children. We have a long way to go before that happens. Right now I would rather be charged of cruelty to this molester than be guilty of the scandal of cruel indifference to our children. Long ago our rabbis taught us the lesson of Saul’s failed kingship; misplaced kindness turns into even greater cruelty down the road. Now is not the time for mercy; it will turn into greater cruelty to our children.

If you are committed to fighting molesting I urge you to search your heart. Are you reluctant to pursue the maximum sentence out of principle, or are you surrendering to the same pressures applied to all victim complainants; the pressure not to make waves, not to cause a scandal for the community, not to seem too assertive.  I say the scandal is here.

Having been forced by our molesters into a public confrontation in the courtroom, let’s not settle for half measures and incomplete follow-through. Let’s not be like Saul in his war with Amalek. He was so, so close to victory and he settled for half measures. Our situation is too desperate and our victories are too few. We cannot afford to settle for half measures. We must not sell out our victims. There is always a balance between mercy and judgement, rachmonis and mishpat. Now is a time where we have to pursue mishpat. When the molesting crisis in the community subsides we can revert to rachmonis.

Sentencing happens on Monday April 12 in Brooklyn. I urge all my readers to get letters to the sentencing judge by April 7 and make it to the courthouse in Brooklyn on April 12, 9:00 to show the world and our community that enough people are mobilized to stamp out child sexual abuse.

For details about letter writing and court appearances see here.

See also these other posts about Lebovits.

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