BROOKLYN SUPREME COURT — A Hasidic Jewish counselor has been convicted on charges he repeatedly sexually abused a 12-year-old girl whose school forced her to continue in his care, following a two-week trial fraught with attempts to intimidate the victim.
Nechemya Weberman, 54, a high-ranking member of the Orthodox Hasidic Satmar sect in Williamsburg, was convicted on 59 counts, including course of sexual conduct against a child, criminal sex act, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces up to 25 years in prison on the top charge, but could serve longer.
Weberman sat silently in apparent shock as the jury read their verdict on the top charges against him in unison, while a small group of supporters looked on. His wife clutched her coat, looking wide-eyed and stricken as court officers led Weberman away in handcuffs.
The victim's husband, Hershy Deutsch, sent a jubilant note of thanks and celebration to his wife's many supporters on Facebook shortly after the verdict was handed down Monday afternoon.
"While my face is wet from tears and my phone is jamming with messages, I want to thank you all for your support til now and forever," Deutsch wrote. "When God is witness you cannot lie."
During the trial, four supporters from the Satmar community were arrested for allegedly taking photos of the victim on the witness stand and sending them out onto the internet via Twitter. Months before the case went to trial, four other men were arrested for allegedly offering Deutsch $500,000 if the victim dropped her case.
When she refused, prosecutors say the thugs trashed Deutsch's business.
Weberman said he never touched the girl and claimed she was seeking revenge against him because she believed that he was involved with her father's efforts to get an ex-boyfriend arrested for statutory rape in 2010.
"The jury got an unfairly sanitized version of the facts, and as a result the truth did not come out. The struggle to clear an innocent man's name will continue with full force," defense attorney George Farkas said.
The girl gave a very different story, telling jurors on the stand that Weberman told her that he had been watching her since she was 7, and looked forward to the time when she would be sent to him for counseling after rebelling against her religious school's strict dress code.
The attacks took place in Weberman's counseling office from 2007 to 2010, when the victim turned 15, prosecutors said.
Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes praised the victim for coming forward despite all odds, to face down her community at significant risk to herself and her family.
He added that the reluctance by the Satmar sect to cooperate with law enforcement authorities will only hurt the community, and recommended that the Satmar community take a page from Brooklyn's Lubavitch Hasidic community, whose religious court ruled that any allegation of sexual abuse against a child must be taken to police.
"What the leaders of this community have got to understand, just as the Lubavitcher community understood, is that we will never get to the bottom of this and never be able to say with any certitude whether it is pervasive until there is total cooperation without any prior contact, without any prior screening, total cooperation with the civil authorities," Hynes said at a press conference on Monday.
He added that there were other victims too afraid to come forward.
"You were dealing with the appearance of intimidation. People were being ignored in synagogue or people were being told if you report it to the civil authorities, things could happen to you."
Hynes, whose office has come under criticism for not doing enough to stamp out sex abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, had harsh words for anyone who tries to evade the law in the future.
"Make no mistake about it, if we are able to establish in any case where someone is told, 'if you go to civil authorities you will suffer consequences like being thrown out of a yeshiva school or not being allowed to go to a camp or taking away your right to marry,' if any of that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you can bet I’m going to have a grand jury indict and we’re going to prosecute to the maximum," he said.