Brooklyn cantor pleads guilty to sex abuse that ends criminal case after six years

By Oren Yaniv (NY Daily News)
May 16, 2014

 A Brooklyn cantor pleaded guilty Friday to molesting a teenage boy a decade ago, putting an end to a protracted and politicized case.

Baruch Lebovits, 62, will be sentenced to two years for the 2004 sex abuse, but will likely do about six months in jail after good behavior and time served.

The resolution — coming after a trial, a lengthy prison term, a reversal on appeal and years of bitter litigation — is in line with the average punishment for these type of crimes, a judge said.

“It’s a tremendous relief that justice has finally been done,” said Lebovits’ lawyer Arthur Aidala, who led the Hasidic man’s high-powered defense team.

Anti-abuse activists responded in disbelief and were quick to denounce the plea agreement and Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth Thompson.

One of them, Nuchem Rosenberg, tweeted: “A sad day in Brooklyn... Thanks DA Thompson for another fiasco.”

The sordid Lebovits saga dates back to his arrest in 2008, when he was charged with abusing three boys. He eventually went to trial in 2010 regarding one victim, who was 16 at the time of the repeated sexual abuse.

Lebovits was convicted and sentenced to up to 32 years in prison.

But, a year later, he was sprung pending appeal after prosecutors arrested Samuel Kellner on allegations that he extorted the Lebovits family and bribed a witness. Lebovits’ conviction was overturned in 2012 for prosecutors’ failure to disclose a document and a new trial was ordered.

The two competing cases became political fodder during the contentious DA campaign last year. After his election, Thompson asked outgoing DA Charles Hynes not to offer any plea to Lebovits.

After Thompson took office, he dismissed the Kellner case and appointed one of his best trial attorneys to prosecute Lebovits.

Victim advocates implored Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Mark Dwyer not to go easy on him, writing in a letter: “Lebovits is a notorious serial molester whose misdeeds have been widely known for decades.”

But the defense came up with their own arguments.

They accused Thompson of making campaign promises that led to an unusually harsh stance; they reached a civil settlement with the victim and noted that he doesn’t want to testify again; they vowed to make Kellner an integral part of a new trial; and they pointed to more lenient deals given on comparable cases.

One was reached earlier this week when a man named Yoel Malik agreed to 60 days in jail plus probation for violating a 13-year-old boy in a hotel room.

“We challenge the district attorney to justify this distinction,” Alan Dershowitz, one of Lebovits’s lawyers, argued Friday before the plea deal was reached.

Prosecutors, who offered two to six years in prison, eventually agreed in an effort not to expose the complainant to the stress of another trial,” said assistant district attorney Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi.

Lebovits pleaded guilty to eight counts of criminal sex abuse, a felony, and will be sentenced to two years on July 9.

Dwyer said that after checking state records dating back six years, this punishment is in line with what’s typically gets doled out for the admitted crime.

“I think the two is appropriate here in light of a lot of things,” he added.

Since Lebovits already served 13 months, he won’t do more than 11 and is likely to get out after about six months or as little as three with credit for good behavior, sources said.

“It has been resolved based on what we sought,” Dershowitz declared after it was all over.

Ben Hirsch, a co-founder of Survivors For Justice, claimed the resolution should not be the final word.

“There’s more than enough blame to go around for the disintegration of the case,” he said. “We hope DA Thompson pursues an investigation into how this case was destroyed.”