BROOKLYN — The sensational trial of an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and counselor accused of sexually abusing a pre-teen girl was thrown into chaos today when four men seated in the court were arrested for secretly taking pictures of the victim and emailing them to friends and associates, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
The courtroom drama erupted early Thursday afternoon when a 17-year-old woman took the stand to resume her gripping testimony against defendant Nechemya Weberman, 54, who she said sexually abused her repeatedly when she was 12 years old.
Court officers suddenly spotted men in the audience snapping pictures on their cellphones of her.
The officers privately alerted Supreme Court Judge John Ingram, who asked the jurors to leave the room and allowed the guards to ask everyone in court to hand over their cellphones and other electronic gadgets.
Images of the victim were found on phones of four Hasidic men, who were immediately arrested and charged with judicial contempt, a misdemeanor, sources said. It's illegal to take photos in a courtroom without permission.
The men — identified as Joseph Fried, Yona Weisman, Abraham Zupnick and Lemon Juice — face up to a year in jail if they are convicted.
“Court officers observed audience members taking pictures with cell phone,” according to a court report. “Some of them may already have been uploaded to the Internet.”
A courtroom photo of the victim was posted online Thursday via Twitpic by at least one Twitter user, who sources said is a Weberman supporter and whose identity is being withheld to protect the victim.
An 18-year-old woman who knows the victim and was in the courtroom said she did not notice the photos being taken but she was upset to hear what had happened.
The extraordinary development came the day after Weberman reportedly stood outside a conference room in Brooklyn Supreme Court where the victim was preparing to go on the stand, in an apparent attempt to intimidate her.
The explosive sexual abuse trial has sparked a controversial struggle within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community over whether members of the community should take any allegations of sexual abuse to outside law enforcement.
Critics allege that the refusal to go to law enforcement has allowed pedophiles and sexual abusers to flourish inside the tight-knit sect and escape punishment while their victims and their families are intimidated into silence.
Four men were arrested in June for allegedly offering a $500,000 bribe to get the victim to drop her case. The men were also accused of threatening to ruin her then-boyfriend's business.
It is unclear what impact Thursday's arrests may have on the trial, which resumed after the incident.
The woman, who is now married, has testified for several days about being forced to provide oral sex and being sexually abused by Weberman, whom she was sent to for counseling for resisting some of her community's traditional ways.
She had testified that Weberman, a rabbi and unlicensed counselor in the community, locked her in a room and abused her, even while others were working in offices nearby.
Weberman’s lawyers maintain she hatched the tale to get revenge against him and others for their restrictive garb and practices that she felt were overly stifling.
With reporting by Ben Fractenberg, Julie Shapiro, Sonja Sharp, Meredith Hoffman and Irene Plagianos