By Zoë Blackler (guardian.co.uk)
June 21, 2012
Four ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have been charged with attempted bribery and harassment in the case of an alleged child molester, as Brooklyn's district attorney talks tough on victim intimidation.
The men, arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday, are accused of trying to derail the prosecution of Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed therapist awaiting trial for sexual abusing a teenage girl.
Abraham Rubin, 48, and brothers Joseph Berger, Jacob Berger and Hertzka Berger all pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include bribing a witness, witness tampering, coercion and aggravated harassment.
The arrests are being credited to a new task force established by district attorney Charles Hynes following criticism that he has failed to curb the widespread intimidation of sex abuse victims in the Orthodox community. For decades, community leaders have hushed up child abuse allegations, and DA Hynes, who holds an elected position, is accused of minimising prosecutions under pressure from the rabbis with their powerful bloc vote. Thursday's arrests for victim intimidation are the first in an Orthodox child sex abuse case since 2000.
With intense media attention now focused on the community, Weberman's imminent trial has taken centre stage. As the Guardian reported last month, Weberman, 53, stands accused of repeatedly abusing a teenage girl he counselled for three years, beginning when she was 12. The trial is set to begin next month and the girl, now 17, is preparing to take the stand.
But most members of Williamsburg's Satmar Hasidic sect are supporting Weberman over his accuser. At a fundraising rally last month, tens of hundreds of Hasidic men turned out to show their support and raise money for his defence. The rally was seen by victims' advocates as part of a broader strategy to intimidate the victim, her family and their supporters.
Of the four men arraigned on Thursday, Rubin faces the most serious charges. He is accused of offering the victim $500,000 through her boyfriend Hershey Deutsch, for her to to drop the charges. Rubin also offered to advise the girl on how to avoid testifying and suggested she leave the country, the DA said.
The Berger brothers are charged with attempting to coerce Deutsch by threatening to remove the Kosher licence for his Williamsburg pizza restaurant. When Deutsch refused, they tore the certificates off the wall, the DA said.
There is no evidence linking the men to Weberman. And sources within Williamsburg's Satmar Hasidic community said they believed the four men were not those orchestrating the campaign of intimidation.
An advocate for the family said that while Thursday's arrests were part of the "slow chipping away" at the intimidation and cover up in the community, in the short term the renewed attention was merely adding to the pressure being felt by the victim and her family.
Around fifty members of the Satmar sect, friends and family of the accused, filled the court room on Thursday. Speaking after the hearing, Chaim Friedman, who said he had come to support Rubin, said the arrests were politically motivated. "It's a political game playing by Hynes. Because the accusation is Hynes isn't doing his job he wants to show he's arresting people. It's all belony."
Defence attorney Bruce Wenger said the four men denied the charges and were "looking forward to their day in court".
Josh Hanshaft of the DA's racket's bureau told the judge that by intimidating a victim to prevent her going to court the men had said "we're going to thumb our noses at the [secular justice] system".
The men will be back in court on 10 September.