A teenage girl was offered $500 000 to leave the country instead of testifying in an upcoming sex abuse case against her former spiritual counsellor in Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, prosecutors said on Thursday.
Abraham Rubin, 48, offered the bribe to the girl and her boyfriend, telling them justice would be better served if they didn't testify in the case against Nechemya Weberman, prosecutors said. Three other men also tried to harass the accuser into silence, they said.
Weberman, 53, has been accused of molesting the girl from ages 12 to 15. He has pleaded not guilty to sex abuse charges, and he has been embraced in his community and defended as wrongly accused. The girl has been threatened, ostracised and called a slut and a troublemaker, family friends said.
Both the accuser and her boyfriend could be called to testify in the case. A court date was set for July 18.
The rallying around Weberman, suspected witness intimidation and ostracising of his accuser reflects long-held beliefs in this insular community that problems should be dealt with from within.
Assistant District Attorney Josh Hanshaft said the four men had no regard for the criminal justice system and wanted to handle the case their way. They “tried to make the witnesses disappear so the case would be dropped,” he said.
Rubin offered to provide them with counsel on how to be uncooperative at the trial, prosecutors said. Meanwhile, brothers Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger threatened and pressured the accuser and her boyfriend, telling him that they would take away the man's kosher license at his Brooklyn restaurant if he didn't persuade her to drop the case, prosecutors said. Jacob Berger eventually went to the boyfriend's restaurant and tore down the license, according to the indictment.
The four men pleaded not guilty to charges including witness tampering, bribing a witness and coercion. Attorney Bruce Wenger said the men deny all the charges against them.
Rubin's attorney, Shulamis Peltz, said her client would be vindicated when all the facts came out.
On Thursday, the courtroom was packed with family and friends of the defendants, who made bail and were released. The four were ordered to stay away from the accuser and her boyfriend.
Brooklyn is home to about 250 000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, the largest community outside of Israel. The Hasidic community is especially tight-knit, embracing centuries-old traditions and creating a network of separate schools, ambulances and community policing. More than a thousand people recently attended a fundraiser for Weberman that raised thousands intended for his defence, and, in the event he was jailed, for his family. Prosecutors said on Thursday they did not have evidence to show the money was used to bribe the girl.
Weberman's accuser was eventually kicked out of the school where she was receiving his counselling. When she was asked by a guidance counsellor at her new school whether she had ever been molested, she said yes, according to a family friend. The counsellor went to police last fall.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they were victims of sexual abuse.
Weberman's attorney, George Farkas, has said his client is innocent of the charges, and that Weberman has been maligned by the supporters of the girl, now 17.
Farkas said on Thursday his client had no knowledge or involvement in the suspected bribery.
“We denounce any effort to undermine the legitimate court process in this or any case. Mr Weberman has stated from the beginning that no one should be subjected to any form of harassment,” Farkas said in a statement.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has said it is difficult to prosecute cases of sex abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community, because victims are reluctant to come forward, and intimidation is rampant. Earlier this year, he created a new panel to help address intimidation problems, and the charges on Thursday were a result, Hynes said.
“It became clear to us that individuals in these various communities, despite our efforts, were committed to intimidating and threatening victims, and protecting the perpetrators,” he said.
Hynes has faced recent criticism that he was soft on the community for years, in exchange for political support from powerful rabbis, claims he has vehemently denied. In 2009, Hynes created a program that offered counselling and other social programs to sex abuse victims in the Orthodox community. Since then, more than 100 cases have arisen. - Sapa-AP