Brooklyn yeshiva agrees to pay $2.1M to victims of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko's child sex abuse

By Michael O'Keeffe (NY Daily News)
October 27, 2016

A Brooklyn yeshiva quietly became the first Orthodox Jewish school to compensate students who claim they were molested by a teacher when it agreed to pay more than $2 million to two boys and their families in 2014 — and now it may be the first Orthodox school to default on a settlement with sex abuse victims.

Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah, a prominent Orthodox school on Brooklyn's Ocean Parkway, agreed to pay one former student $900,000 and the other $1.35 million in a settlement reached in October 2014.

The agreements were originally confidential, but they became public earlier this month after lawyers for the boys filed papers in Brooklyn Supreme Court that said the school failed to make payments due earlier this year.

“This is the first time the public has known about these payments,” said sex-abuse expert Marci Hamilton, a lawyer and a distinguished scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is the first settlement with a yeshiva that has been publicly disclosed. I was surprised as anybody to see this. This is a sizeable settlement.”

Attorneys for the two boys claimed in lawsuits filed in 2006 that Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, an elementary school teacher at the yeshiva, had sexually abused them when they were students at the school.

“Torah Temimah knew or should have known that Rabbi Kolko sexually abused young male students under his supervision or control,” one complaint said. “Torah Temimah knew or should have known of Rabbi Kolko's dangerous sexual predisposition and/or that he was unfit, dangerous and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the minors entrusted to his counsel, care and protection at Torah Temimah.”

Those boys weren't Kolko's only victims, according to the court papers.

The filings say Rabbi Lipa Marguiles, the yeshiva's president and dean, had received multiple sex abuse complaints about Kolko for more than 25 years. But Marguiles continued to employ Kolko as an elementary school teacher and “give him unfettered access to young children,” the papers said.

Families that complained about sex abuse were bullied by Marguiles and Kolko, the court filings say.

“Rabbi Marguiles, in concert with Rabbi Kolko, additionally engaged in tactics of intimidation, threats, coercion and misrepresentation over a period of years with the intent of squelching any complaints or civil claims concerning Rabbi Kolko's misconduct,” the papers say.

Marguiles and an attorney for Torah Temimah, Avraham Moskowitz, did not return calls for comment.

Several other former students also filed lawsuits that alleged Kolko had sexually abused them, but those complaints were dismissed because they were filed too late.

New York state law bars sex abuse victims from filing civil complaints after they turn 23 years old. Orthodox Jewish organizations, along with the Catholic Church, have opposed bills that would raise or eliminate the statute of limitations and provide a one-year window for sex-abuse victims to pursue litigation regardless of age.

Kolko, 70, faced criminal sex abuse charges when the lawsuits were filed a decade ago. In a controversial deal reached with then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, Kolko agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment.

Critics said the plea deal, which allowed Kolko to avoid a jail sentence and register as a sex offender, was proof that Hynes was afraid to pursue sex abuse in Brooklyn's politically muscular Orthodox community.

Attorneys for the boys who claimed they were sexually abused by Kolko did not immediately return requests for comment.