Many of us fought hard to help Kenneth Thompson win election as Brooklyn DA because he promised to end the Hynes era discrimination against orthodox Jewish children. Under Hynes, orthodox child molesters usually got sweetheart deals, if there was any prosecution at all. Any ultra orthodox Jew who dared to go to the civil authorities was subjected to intimidation. Sam Kellner was even set up with false extortion and perjury charges, all to protect a notorious molester, Baruch Lebovits. Under Hynes, Sex Crimes staff were told to refer all intimidation complaints to Louise Cohen. She in turn was supposed to pass the complaints to the Rackets Division under Michael Vecchione. There was almost never any effective follow-up.
Thompson has kept his promise to diligently prosecute sex crimes even when the offenders are orthodox Jews. Thompson did exonerate Sam Kellner. Mr. Thompson’s office has vacated some wrongful convictions and is actively reviewing others. But Thompson has an abysmal record at dealing with witness intimidation. To date he has never shown any results at prosecuting those who intimidated orthodox victims and their supporters. Ken Thompson has never sanctioned the staff in his office responsible for screwing up the Lebovits case (ADA Miss Gregory) or pursuing the Kellner case. Instead, Joe Alexis was promoted and Nicholas Batsides still works there. The office has not brought charges against the Ashkenazi brothers (Zalmen and Berel) responsible for intimidating and bribing witnesses, or members of the Lebovits family who did the same.
Mr. Thompson was photographed hugging Moshe (Gabbai) Friedman who perjured himself to set up Sam Kellner. He attended a massive event headlined by the Satmar Rebbe, Aaron Teitelbaum, who famously called the witness against Weberman a whore. But Thompson is not seen publicly with those who defend victims. Nor does his office meet with them privately. During his campaign he relied on Yossi Gestetner, a PR flack notorious for his propaganda on behalf Nechemya Weberman. Mr. Thompson has held large private meetings orchestrated by Ezra Friedlander with Haredi leadership including many of the people notorious for defending molesters and intimidating victims.
Yesterday (4/28/14) his office dealt a devastating blow to victims and their supporters. The New York Times ran the headline, No Jail Time for Brooklyn Man Who Threw Bleach on a Rabbi. Thompson let Meilech Schnitzler get off with probation for assaulting anti-abuse activist, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, on a busy Williamsburg street. But for the intervention of a Hispanic bystander who doused him with water, Rabbi Rosenberg might have been blinded. The cup was thrown the day after Nechemya Weberman was convicted at a moment when victims finally were gaining some confidence.
Nuchem, as we fondly call him, isn’t just any assault victim. He has singlehandedly raised consciousness of sex abuse while continuing to live in Hasidic Williamsburg. He has weathered excommunication. He is a force of nature, undaunted, even by the bleach assault. On leaving the hospital with damaged corneas he said, “They are not gonna stop me. …… They thought they were going to blind me and I will stop this war. If I would have to pick them up with a seeing eye dog, I would pick them up!”
I admire Nuchem’s pluck, but no one should have to accept such risks. Nor for that matter should they have to put up with rocks being thrown at them by mobs coming out of a synagogue, as happened last week. Yesterday’s sweetheart deal will embolden the Williamsburg riffraff. Mr. Thompson has declared open season on Rabbi Rosenberg. He will not be stopped but others will.
The Office of the DA knew the deal stank. It was less than the usual plea bargain sentence for a felonious assault. Ordinarily, the DA shares a planned plea deal with the victim and seeks his consent. But Nuchem who was almost blinded, was blindsided in the courtroom when the deal was revealed. This was not an accident and this was not a low-level decision. The office knew the deal would provoke outrage. The office did not want to face demonstrations, hostile media coverage, and pressure from activists. So they snuck in the verdict like thieves in the dark.
Perhaps the Thompson administration thinks a felony conviction with unsupervised probation will send a warning. Perhaps they took advice from community “leaders” instead of having their ear to the ground. If so, they are very naive. Abraham Rubin pled guilty and served three months for offering a half million dollar bribe to two witnesses against Weberman. On his release the Satmar community feted Rubin with celebrations lauding him for defending Weberman. The son of the Satmar Rebbe declared Rubin a tzadik (righteous man) and declared, ‘I would be happy to exchange places with Rubin in the world to come.”
If Meilech Schnitzler were a lawyer or politician, a felony conviction would cost him his career and public standing. But he works in his father’s fish store. If Schnitzler lived in a community that abhorred violence, the conviction would damage his social standing. But in Satmar Williamsburg, Schnitzler is a hero who probably got synagogue honors for his deed.
I actively supported Ken Thompson in his bid for office. I have held back on publicly criticizing him in the hope that he would eventually come to grips with the challenge of intimidation. But my optimism is exhausted. He is clueless about the challenge of fighting sex abuse in the orthodox community. While he understands the significance of the Emmet Till case for African Americans he does not understand the importance of this case for ultra orthodox Jews. While he appropriately confronts Black on Black crime, he does not comprehend the dynamics of Black Hat on Black Hat Crime. He is congratulating himself on properly prosecuting sex crimes. He does not seem to realize that the Hasidic system will adjust by resorting to more intimidation.
I hope Thompson is merely clueless about witness intimidation. If so, there is still some hope that he can get it right. But if he understood the message he sent yesterday, then all hope is lost.