By Oren Yaniv (NY Daily News)
January 23, 2014
A protracted and politicized sex abuse case against a Jewish cantor got a boost Thursday with the appointment of Brooklyn’s top trial prosecutor.
Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi — a homicide bureau chief who has never lost a trial in at least 36 tries that included many high profile murder cases — joined the team handling the prosecution of Baruch Lebovits.
The 62-year-old Hasidic man was found guilty in 2010 for molesting a boy six years earlier but the conviction was overturned by an appeals panel that ordered a new trial. The proceedings got convoluted with the 2011 indictment of Samuel Kellner for extortion and bribing witnesses against Lebovits.
The new Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson campaigned against the Kellner prosecution, calling it “botched,” and in his first act after getting elected in November asked then-DA Charles Hynes not to offer Lebovits a plea deal.
The cantor's circle has implied the top prosecutor was taking sides out of political expediency, arguing that Kellner supporters helped him secure a historic victory over the long-time incumbent.
Some questioned Thursday why a leading homicide prosecutor would be assigned to a sex case where the top counts are low-level felonies.
“I'll tell you one thing about Thompson: he keeps his campaign promises,” a court observer quipped.
Earlier this week, the top sex abuse prosecutor in the office was appointed to take a fresh look at Kellner’s extortion and bribery case.
A DA spokeswoman did not immediately comment on the new assignments.
Further complicating progress in both cases is an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation into NYPD Det. Steven Litwin, who worked with Kellner to bring forth accusations against Lebovits and has been accused of coaching a witness.
“He's a major cog in the extortion plot by Kellner,” Lebovits’ lawyer Alan Dershowitz charged outside court. “We have independent evidence of that corruption and we offered it to the investigators repeatedly and they have thus far refused to accept it.”
A spring retrial date might be set in the next hearing on Feb. 18., which could pit Nicolazzi against the famed a defense attorney who helped clear OJ Simpson of murder.
Nicolazzi, who’s regarded as a meticulous prosecutor, successfully tried the killers of NYPD cops Russell Timoshenko, tortured student Ramona Moore and college football player Mark Fisher. She most recently took part in a review of some 50 old homicide convictions tied to a tainted retired detective.
She didn’t speak during the hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court Thursday but her colleague Miss Gregory, said, “We're ready to proceed to trial.”