I Hope Thompson Is Merely Clueless About Witness Intimidation

Kenneth Thompson

Kenneth Thompson

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.

Meilech Schnitzler

Meilech Schnitzler

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.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg in hospital gown

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg in hospital gown

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.

13 thoughts on “I Hope Thompson Is Merely Clueless About Witness Intimidation

  1. Well said.

    I’d add that while he he appropriately confronts Black Hat on Black crime, he seems to treat Black Hat on Black Hat crime the way others treat Black on Black crimes. Shame on him for this.

  2. The Brooklyn DA’s office should have brought in outside counsel to handle this case. It seems to me that is true of the Lebovits case as well.

    The Federal authorities should be investigating the conduct of the Brooklyn DA’s office past and present.


    A source in the DA’s office [the Daily News has now changed this to read “law enforcement”] reportedly said that because Rosenberg immediately washed his eyes and therefore suffered no lasting injuries, and because Schnitzler had no prior criminal history, the sentence was appropriate. The source also told the Daily News that s/he questions whether Rosenberg actually helps sex victims or just advocates about abuse issues.

  3. Schnitzler committed blatant assault in a clear attempt to intimidate Rosenberg.
    It’s a clear as a sunny day to me.
    I have stated this numerous times, in numerous ways, but it bears repeating: when the downside of committing a crime is far outweighed by the benefits of committing said crime, why would one cease committing said crime?
    Intimidators will be boldened by the sentence given. Just have a clean record and carry a glass of water with your bleach.

  4. Forgive me for a long comment. I want to suggest a tactic for our serious consideration.

    In Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals (Brandeis University Press, 2009), Amy Neustein and I argued that the use of black hat-on-black hat violence – or even the threat of it – against a victim of abuse, or a potential witness at trial, constitutes a federal crime if it’s part of an attempt to interfere with that person’s use of the criminal justice system. This is because Title 18, Section 245(b)(2) of the U.S. Code makes such force (or threat of force) a crime when the interference is “because of his [the victim’s] race, color, religion or national origin.” When Orthodox Jews are the victims of such attacks, it’s their religion that makes them a target – in this case, not because the attacker is from a different religion (and is acting out of prejudice against the Jewish victims), but because the attacker is from the same religion and singles out his coreligionists as traitors if they resort to secular courts. True, the law has never been applied in this way, but there is no logical reason it should not be. To be subjected to violence or threats specifically because one belongs to an Orthodox Jewish community, and is seeking the benefits of the court system, is a serious civil rights violation regardless of whether the attacker happens to be Jewish or anti-Semitic.

    I’m repeating this argument in my forthcoming book on sex abuse cover-ups in Orthodox communities, to be called Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co.), which is supposed to appear this summer. I mention it now because I think persuading federal officials to prosecute under this law, in appropriate cases, would be one important way to break the Brooklyn deadlock. We all know what it means for a local state official to take on the whole Orthodox rabbinate. But the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Eastern District represents a much larger constituency and is less susceptible to rabbinic pressure.

    This won’t happen by itself. It will take organization and sustained effort, and it should not be the only thing we try to do. But I think it’s an important goal, because it can outflank the D.A. and ultimately shame him (or her) into doing the job a D.A. is supposed to do. Look at the record. Only federal prosecutors got the Shai Fhima case moving; the Brooklyn D.A. logrolled it. Only a federal prosecution got Israel Weingarten a 30-year jail sentence; Rockland County officials wouldn’t touch him.

    And once we get a successful federal civil-rights prosecution for such a crime, we can next make formal complaints to New York’s Attorney General about the failure of the local D.A. to pursue the same matter under state law – as he should have done. This approach would, again, outmaneuver the centers of entrenched rabbinic power and shame high state officials into action – for instance, appointing a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute other crimes against sex abuse victims, advocates, witnesses or supporters. Who knows where that would lead?

    Okay, that’s the long comment.

    • Michael,

      Why reinvent the wheel with new original legal approaches that may or may not be accepted ?

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but couldn’t the US Attorney’s office and the FBI investigate and prosecute Hynes and his office for corruption and false prosecution of Sam Kelner?

      Couldn’t they investigate Rabbis and leaders for organized bribing and intimidating of witnesses under Federal RICO laws?

      Couldn’t they set up Internet stings in Brooklyn’s frum community with its lowest rate of convictions of child molesters, “To Catch Predators?””These arrests are slam dunk prosecutions with physical evidence and no need for witnesses. The Feds got Shmuel Zev Juravel in Baltimore sentenced to over 20 years through this method.

      It has been widely reported that they are focusing much more and with great success on investigating and prosecuting child pornography cases as a much easier way to curtail the sexual abuse of children. However it has been debated by researchers of there is a much higher prevalence of actual mesters among those who watch child porn. (Intuitively, there has to be more among them, but there also has to be a lot of pedophiles who have enough self control and fear of getting caught to stock to kiddie porn.)

      When Ed Koch, A”H publicly recommended the State Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor for our community’s mafia, there was zero interest. The powers that be wield way too much influence in Albany.

      Let us put our heads together and brainstorm how best to motivate the Feds to act to protect Jewish children.

  5. Thompson is in way over his head — and compromised: he is beholden to the Satmar for getting him elected. Its the New York way of life.

    But the fact this the author of this blog, Mr (Rabbi?) Lopin, was his chief cheerleader & told people to vote for Thompson knowing Thompson’s close ties to the Satmar and their shameless religious coverups of sex abuse reflects VERY badly on Mr/Rabbi Lopin.

    • Not rabbi.

      I believed then and now that Mr. Thompson is honest prosecuting sex abuse cases in the orthodox community. That makes him much better than Hynes. I elections you only get a choice of the candidates on the ballot. Hynes was deliberately failing to prosecute orthodox sex abuse or routinely handing out sweetheart deals when he had the evidence and witnesses to bargain for much more. Hynes was also managing his often poorly and generating too many wrongful convictions.

      I am still happy I supported Thompson over Hynes. Yet I also feel Thompson has a ways to go when it comes to intimidation and better understanding the community.

    • Thompson is not beholden to Satmar. He won the primary even though both Satmar factions supported Hynes. In Brooklyn, county-wide elections are decided in the primary since the Democratic nomination is a virtual guarantee of winning the general election.

      • Repeating the same ways of the previous administration will only vote him out by these same followers for a fair and credibile justice system, thank G-d outnumbered the corrupted voting bloc. Justice shall prevail

  6. Pingback: Sex Abuse and Lawlessness in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community | Marci A. Hamilton | Verdict | Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia

  7. Pingback: 60 Days for 4 Youth Victims, 24 Sex Felonies & 52 Misdemeanors | lostmessiah

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