Sex abuse victims press Gov. Cuomo to support extending statute of limitations against abusers

By Reuven Blau (NY Daily News)
April 5, 2016

Sex abuse victims and child advocates turned up the heat Monday on Gov. Cuomo, calling on him to support legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for criminal charges and civil suits lodged against accused abusers.

For years, Joel Engelman, who was allegedly abused by a yeshiva principal, said he has lobbied Albany lawmakers to extend the statute - saying that school administrators can't be trusted to do the right thing.

"The governor needs to take a stronger and more public stance on this issue," said Engelman, 30. "The silence is deafening. The governor is pretty much saying he's not interested in this bill passing."

Cuomo said he was willing to consider some type of change to the law, but he did not elaborate.

"Those guilty of sexual abuse need to be held accountable, and we would support changes to help ensure victims have their day in court and maintain due process," said Cuomo's spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

But he stopped short of outright supporting a proposed bill - sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and last passed by the Assembly in 2008 - that would extend the statute of limitations, a measure opposed by the Catholic Church and a consortium of yeshivas.

That has upset at least one Jewish child advocate. "The governor has to address this problem immediately. He's part of the problem," said Mark Appel, founder of Voice of Justice.

Engelman, who says he was abused when he was 8, just wanted the Williamsburg, Brooklyn, yeshiva he attended to fire his accused abuser, Rabbi Avrohom Reichman.

A few months before his 23rd birthday, Engelman built up the courage to speak with Reichman and officials at the Satmar school, United Talmudical Academy.

He detailed how Reichman, the principal at the time, allegedly would repeatedly rub and fondle his genitals inside his office over a three-month period in 1993.

School administrators admitted other students had made similar complaints and agreed to yank Reichman from their payroll in April 2009, according to Engelman.

But approximately three months later, Reichman was quietly brought back.

There was nothing Engelmann could do because the statute of limitations in New York had expired.

"I was heartbroken," Engelman recalled. "It seemed like it was a game to them. I lost my faith in the goodwill of people."

Still, Engelman tried to sue - arguing "breach of promises and oral contract."

The lawsuit also alleged that several officials of the Hasidic group reviewed Engelman's allegations and found that "there were multiple, credible complaints of sexual abuse made against Reichman."

But the case was tossed due to the statute of limitations.

"The judge didn't even want to address it," Engelman recalled.

During his time at the school, Reichman would first talk with him about his day and his classes. But the conversation would quickly grow physical as the rabbi began to touch his shoulders and work his way downward, Engelman alleges.

After the approximately 15-minute sessions, Reichman would say "dismissed" and order that everything be kept secret.

That's how it remained for more than a decade.

Engelman was aware he was soon turning 23 and that the statute of limitations was an issue.

But he trusted the school would do the right thing and protect other possible child victims - a move he deeply regrets.

For years, Engelman has urged politicians in Albany to change the law. But he's been frustrated by the lack of action by the Republican-led state Senate and Cuomo.

"Naively, my family and I believed the school in good conscience would take care of the issue," he said.

Reichman has long denied the abuse allegations. He left the school three years after Engelman first approached him about the abuse.